It's 1983, in the interminably gray council estates of the Midlands, and runty 12-year Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is in a dire spot. His father won't be coming back from the Falklands War; at school, everyone else has adopted the uniforms of their respective clans—goths, mods, New Romantics—while he stands alone in raggedy bellbottoms. The only suggestion of respite from his outcast status comes on the last day of school, when he runs afoul of a local gang of skinheads, led by the perceptive and charismatic Woody (Joe Gilgun)—in short order, Shaun's scalp is shorn and he's outfitted in boots and braces, a part of something at last.
The skinhead culture that Shaun is initiated into will be utterly foreign to viewers reared on Geraldo Rivera special—though the movement's since become synonymous with racist thuggery, Woody's crew is multiethnic, with no political agenda beyond getting blazed and listening to Toots and the Maytalls. Period specificities aside, the film illustrates an aspect of adolescence I've rarely seen better explored: how subculture membership can foster a sense of belonging in young people unsuited to the school-sponsored avenues of self-identification, or can get a kid laid who'd otherwise be hopeless.
Click here to read the rest of Nick Pinkerton's review of This Is England.