DIR: Mark Gill • WRI: Mark Gill, William Thacker • PRO: Baldwin Li, Orian Williams • DOP: Nicholas D. Knowland • ED: Adam Biskupski • DES: Helen Watson • MUS: Masakatsu Takagi • CAST: Jack Lowden, Jodie Comer
The idea of making a film about Morrissey sounds like a concept delivered a few years too late. The former frontman to The Smiths undoubtedly remains popular to this day, but enmity for the conceited popstar continually grows even among his fans. Deciding to take a page from the John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, and focus on Morrissey’s adolescence and pre-music career seems like the best choice for England is Mine to take, yet even this isn’t enough to make the experience an enjoyable one. While fans of Morrissey might find nuggets of appreciation for moments which allude to some of his more famous songs, those unfamiliar will undoubtedly feel alienated and frustrated with this tribute to the Manchester artist.
One of the most significant problems that England is Mine suffers from is in its narrative. Choosing to focus exclusively on Stephen Morrissey as a young teenager and his relationship to his home excludes a lot of the more interesting moments of his life and the controversies in them. The Morrissey depicted here by writer/director Mark Gill, in his feature debut, is one who feels empty and aimless in conjunction with the world around him. Unfortunately, the film adopts this sentiment as well, often without any clear indication about what the film wants to be about.
It’s an exploration of creativity and inspiration, about frustrations with bourgeois social ambitions, about depression and mental illness, dysfunctional families, and yet none of these elements are cohesive from beginning to end. An incredibly coincidental moment which occurs two thirds into the movie while Morrissey works in a hospital would be considered a traumatic and life-changing experience, but is simply glossed over here as another plot point until the final conclusion.
Secondly, and far more egregiously to the film’s detriment, is Morrissey himself. As a character study, it’s hard to think of another more obnoxious and unlikable screen presence in cinema this year. As England is Mine opens, we see a fastidious, sardonic, bitter, and imperious teenager who looks down on his best friend’s help because she works in Asda. As the film ends, this character never changes. Teen dramas often rely on themes of alienation and confusion, with the well-meaning message of “be yourself” but Gill and co-writer, William Thacker, turn this into an excuse for senselessly callous remarks to friends and family. Morrissey does not change at any point throughout the film, and his pretentions become the very reason a character like Adrian Mole exists to be made fun of.
Not helped by this is a bland imitation of Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) of the singer/songwriter in his early years. Lowden certainly adopts the look and mannerisms but remains monotone throughout, performing as Morrissey, the celebrity, more than Morrissey, the young and confused adult. What’s left of the film is an empty and unfocussed celebration of an intolerable and immature brat’s right to be intolerable and immature.
Music biography films, such as Walk the Line, are best when they offer insight into an artist’s life for fans looking to learn more but can also work as an introduction for newcomers to songs they might never have heard. England is Mine offers neither, and as opening narration advises, is “worth avoiding.”
15A (See IFCO for details)
England is Mine is released 4th August 2017