England Is Mine review: Mark Gill directs this portrait of Steven Patrick Morrissey and his early life in 1970’s Manchester before he went on to become lead singer of seminal 80’s band The Smiths.
England Is Mine review by Scott Davis.
The Smiths – something of an ordinary name for a band that many believe are the most influential music group of the 1980’s or indeed of all time, depending on who you believe. Their music revolutionised the British independent music scene and at the forefront was their enigmatic front man, Morrissey, once voted one of the greatest living British icons so it’s something of a surprise that a film about his legacy and influence hasn’t been made before this one. But finally, we have a glimpse into the mind of the artist with England is Mine, a look at the early years of this legendary musician.
Manchester, 1970. With the music scene changing in the UK, many new artists were slowly finding their voice and one such man was Steven Patrick Morrissey (Jack Lowden), a teenager who feels he is destined for greatness. Finding inspiration from Oscar Wilde and countless other literary and artistic sources, Steven finds his passion in poetry, story-writing and writing music hoping to one day form his own band that will bring originality and a fresh voice to the music scene. But he, like many others, struggles to get his big break but after meeting young artist (Jessica Brown Findlay), he soon finds the inspiration to pursue his dream – and the enigmatic Morrissey is born.
Lowden, who has the strange fate of having two films out within a week of each other (the other sees him as a Spitfire pilot alongside Tom Hardy in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk), may be a little unknown to audiences but with these two performances it won’t be long before he is a very big star. This role was always going to be a hard one to pull off – as with many literary characters, every Morrissey fan will have a version of the man in their head as to how he should look, sound and carry himself so almost immediately the filmmakers and Lowden are up against expectations but the young Scot Is so good from the outset that any fears quickly dissipate and the music legend is standing in front of us. A mix of wit, sarcasm, and pithiness, Lowden is a poised, measured presence that elevates what is a pretty standard biopic and with the charming Findlay at his side, the two make a dynamic duo.
Acclaimed director Mark Gill does well with the material too but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this feels more like a television movie than a big-screen one – it hits all of the marks and moments in this type biopic that it needs to with efficiency and effectiveness without ever reaching the upper echelons of what it perhaps could have been. Credit to Gill and co-writer William Thacker (not that one!) for trying a fresher approach to the material by focusing on the early years of Morrissey and his personal struggles rather than the music that makes the man but such a prominent component are the songs that it feels slightly lacking without them. That said, we’re not sure many people would have flocked to see a film about the man in his later years given his divisive qualities.
While England is Mine is a hugely worthy look into the mind and early years of such an acclaimed artist, it feels like a big opportunity missed to tell the full story. Directed with artistic aplomb by the award-winning Gill, it’s certainly an accomplished looking film with a stunning central performance by Jack Lowden but it’s unlikely to bring in any new fans to the man and may have worked better on the small screen than the big.
England Is Mine review, Scott Davis, August 2017.
England Is Mine is released in UK cinemas on Friday 4th August 2017.