Do Real Men Cry?

Broadcaster: Film 4
Year: 2015 (transmission)
Genre: Film

Review by: Emily Kelsey

The theme of post-war-youth subculture could not be more obvious than in the film This is England written by Shane Meadows. Let us set the scene. The film is set in the early 80s in a working class area of Nottingham. The exact location is never alluded to or mentioned; I believe this is due to the fact that Meadows’ intention is for those watching it to believe that events were happening all over the country at this time. In addition, the fact that the film is named This is England also hints at the idea of inclusivity across the country.

The film focuses around central characters Combo, Woody and Shaun. The focus for this film surrounds the youth subculture of Skinheads. Meadows captures the clash between the first (non-violent) and second (violent) waves of the Skinhead movement. Due to my interest in youth subculture and contemporary history, Meadows’ work on his film and the later series of the same name strikes a chord with my historical interests. For this entry, I will be focusing on how the themes of masculinity and fatherhood resonate through the Skinhead subculture. I will illustrate how two of the male protagonists prove their masculinity throughout the film and how the notion of fatherhood and family reverberates within the youth subculture-Skinhead.

Woody is the leader of the group of youths who represent the first wave of non-violent, non-racist Skinheads. His masculinity is expressed through the fact he is obviously a father figure to a lot of the members of his Skinhead group .An example of this comes the first time we meet him. Shaun is around the age of 11 and is young compared to Woody and his gang, yet as he is coming home from a bad day at school Woody still engages with him. Woody welcomes Shaun to join them and attempts to cheer him up. Later in the film we also see Woody and Lol, Woody’s girlfriend, buy Shaun a shirt which matches the rest of the Skinhead group.

This is England

Here we see Woody making the decision to take Shaun under his wing and let him join in. In addition, we see Woody making the decision to leave a party when a violent Skinhead gang turns up. He makes the decision to take his group away from the violent threat of Combo’s Skinheads in order to protect them.

Combo, on the other hand, has an incredibly different way of showing his masculinity. He represents the new wave of Skinhead which is closely associated with the National Front political party which espouses racist ideologies.  When we first meet Combo he is not inviting and kind like Woody. Combo’s entrance is preceded by one of his hardened gang members (Banjo) brandishing a machete and storming into the room. Later Combo follows expecting his old friends (Woody and his group) to take the threat of violence as a joke.  Later in this scene Combo continues to exert a traditional, masculine identity by talking about his time in prison and the violence he used against a black inmate. Furthermore, Combo’s group of violent Skinheads are all male in comparison to Woody’s mixed sex group. This further shows Woody’s role as a father figure due to the fact that his group are portrayed as more of a family. On the other hand, Combo comes across as more of an army general with his all male ‘troops’.

The illusion of Combo displaying a hardened and violent masculine exterior is challenged. Although Combo at one point does refer to his male group as ‘troops’ he does treat Shaun as if he were his father, just as Woody does. Combo hugs Shaun on many occasions and buys him presents. He also tells him that if he ever needs to talk to anyone or have a cuddle or even cry he is prepared to be there for Shaun when he needs him. Another incident where Combo’s traditionally violent and testosterone fuelled masculinity is questioned is when he has beaten Milky, one of Woody’s friends who is from the Caribbean. We see Combo build up to this violent attack on Milky when they are having a conversation about family. It becomes clear that Combo is jealous of Milky and his extensive family which is filled with love. Here we see Combo’s weak spot which he can only deal with in an outburst of rage. After the moving scene is complete and Combo has finished beating Milky, he breaks down and cries. Combo apologises to Milky as he lays unconscious and bleeding. It is notable that although it is Combo who holds more traditionally masculine attributes in comparison to Woody, it is only Combo who we see cry and express emotion; attributes which are traditionally applied to women.

The confusion between traditional and non-traditional themes of masculinity is illustrated perfectly by Meadows. He proves the reality of masculinity to be that no man can possess masculine qualities alone. Human beings are too complex and confused to just act with just traditionally viewed masculine or  feminine qualities all the time.

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