England Is Mine
England Is Mine, taken from The Smiths song Still Ill, and directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mark Gill, is a biopic of the origins of one of rock music’s most famous, albeit controversial, singers: Steven Patrick Morrissey.
The film stars Jack Lowden as the bookish and criminally shy Mancunian, well before his famous years as the gladioli-wielding frontman of The Smiths. Though not an instant physical likeness, Lowden’s features grow on the viewer, the camera angles underlining his facial characteristics as he eventually becomes the iconic bequiffed singer.
It’s 1976, and above the sound of crashing waves, Morrissey’s voiceover philosophises his humdrum life. Alienated, he is helped by his friend Anji Hardie (Katherine Pearce), whose brazen character highlights Steven’s shy ways, bringing to light his challenging adolescence in 1970s Manchester.
The comic timing in the movie deserves praise, in scenes such as when the protagonist writes an acerbic band review, his vocabulary highly intellectual, though construed to be arrogant by some. Developing an intimate relationship with his mother, soon after his father walks out on the family, Steven remains bookish and attached to his typewriter and records, listening to pop girl groups of the 1960s. As the film is an unauthorised biopic, no original music or lyrics are used, though this doesn’t lessen the authenticity. Timely props such as Melody Maker magazine and muted bokeh cinematic effects contribute to the realism of the lyricist’s youth, adding a touching warmth.
His friendship with Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay) is refreshing – she is his intellectual match. Having to work as an office clerk, we see Steven struggle with the banality, though fortunately he eventually succeeds in forming his first band, The Nosebleeds, in which he performs with a natural ease. We feel his deep frustrations vicariously, his depression is relatable and produces empathy. Though there are fictional tropes, autobiographical elements exist, which Gill has delved into with an untainted simplicity, showing the intriguing ordinariness of the singer’s roots. A particularly tear-inducing point in the film is the conversation with his mother to whom he admits not knowing how to carry on, whereupon she replies, “You are the only version of yourself in existence”, urging him to pursue his passions
It is clear to see Morrissey’s eventual successful career forming in his early years, and his determination to escape his humdrum existence – “Nothing worth doing in life involves repetition”. Although the character does indulge in arrogance at times, the inner monologues invite us into his private thoughts, and we can empathise with him when his manager bemoans, “Why can’t you be more like everyone else?”.
England Is Mine is a captivating portrayal of one of the most original lyricists in modern British music for fans and newcomers alike, presenting the pre-Smiths years as we catch a rare glimpse of Morrissey’s early life, which led him to form one of the defining bands of the 1980s. As Gill flirts with the relationship between Morrissey and Johnny Marr, we see the pair’s bond already blossoming through their alluring onscreen chemistry.
England Is Mine is released nationwide on 4th August 2017.
Watch the trailer for England is Mine here: