MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Shane Meadows is a self-taught British filmmaker with five feature films to his credit, all have been working-class dramas, all have miniscule budgets, and all earned less than $200,000 worldwide. But his latest film, "This is England," took in more than $3 million during its debut in the United Kingdom. And critic Bob Mondello says it deserves to be a hit in the U.S., too.

BOB MONDELLO: Maggie Thatcher's England, 1983, just after the Falklands War, in a town where there are no jobs, men who want to support their families headed off to become cannon fodder, leaving their children behind.

Shaun is a smart 12-year-old who lost his father in the war, and who therefore, in the merciless logic of the schoolyard, gets picked on constantly. So his eyes are blurred with tears as he blunders into what looks like trouble - a gang of skinheads lounging beneath an overpass. Luckily their leader, at least, sounds sympathetic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "THIS IS ENGLAND")

J: You can see he's upset. We've been over it a few times. Just come on, five minutes. Just come over and sit down, man, come on.

THOMAS TURGOOSE: (As Shaun): But you'll all just pick on me. Everyone does.

Unidentified Man #1: So who says who's picking on you?

TURGOOSE: Someone at school.

Unidentified Man #2: What's his name?

TURGOOSE: Harvey(ph).

Man #1: Harvey?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

Man #1: What sort of a bloody girl's name is Harvey?

NORRIS: Hello. I'm Harvey. I've come to get your jig. I just want of these few sunny jims(ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

Man #2: I've got one over there. It's for you. My name is Harvey.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: The giggles start, and Shaun suddenly has friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Older friends and not exactly the role models that Shaun's mother might have chosen for him. But in the early 1980s, these skinheads are not neo- Nazis either. The little gang that adopts Shaun as a sort of mascot listens to West Indian music, and even has a black gang member, jokingly referred to as Milky. And if their idea of fun includes vandalism...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "THIS IS ENGLAND")

MONDELLO: ...it also includes ice cream, and joking in diners, and quiet parties where an outlandish-looking older girl with black lipstick and ratted hair catches Shaun's eye. He angles for his first kiss like a proper little gentleman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "THIS IS ENGLAND")

TURGOOSE: Would you, like, to take a turn in the garden with me?

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, that's sweet. No. You're a little sweet tart, aren't you?

Unidentified Woman #2: He's making me emotional.

MONDELLO: Filmmaker Shane Meadows was himself a skinhead in his early teens, and there are undercurrents of autobiography here, as you'll gather from a certain similarity of names - Shane, Shaun. But if the film's initial portrait of this rebellious youth tribe is more appealing than you expect, change was coming to the skinhead culture in 1983. And in "This Is England," it tromps in in heavy boots. A 30-year-old skinhead ex-con whose racist, profanity-laced rants change the whole tone of the film.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "THIS IS ENGLAND")

SIEGEL: Well, given flux that he's (censored by network) Pakis, right? You've got 50 and 60 in a (censored by network) flat on their own. There's three and a half million unemployed, don't they, and that fact, centers on (censored by network) phony war. The Falklands...

MONDELLO: The gang is appalled, but Shaun sits mesmerized. Writer-director Meadows likes to mix professional and nonprofessional actors. In this film, needing a standout for Shaun, he found him in a town near where he was filming. An underprivileged 13-year-old, small for his age, diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and recently rejected for a bit part in his school play.

As Shaun, little Thomas Turgoose doesn't have a bit part. He's in virtually every scene, and is terrific throughout. Tough, sometimes scared, other times scary, especially when the film reaches the Clockwork Orange-style ultraviolence it's been headed for from the beginning. This youngster leaves you thinking about the effects of being an outcast, of violence, and of needing a father figure, much as the film leaves you thinking about a skinhead culture of outcasts given to violence, born in a moment of war, when father figures were elsewhere.

Is that too simplistic? Well, maybe, but it's persuasive enough in "This Is England" to leave you thinking that maybe this is England.

I'm Bob Mondello.

SIEGEL: And you can see clips from "This is England" and read more coverage of this week's movies at npr.org.

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