“The ease of doing nothing, over the fear of doing something.”
Words spoken by a young conflicted man named Steven Patrick Morrissey. We follow his adolescent journey from writing scathing letters to NME magazine to forming a burgeoning musical friendship with Johnny Marr in England is Mine. These two youngsters would go on to become half of the seminal Eighties band The Smiths. Mark Gill’s latest film tells the story of everything that happened before they became part of musical history.
England is Mine paints a particular portrait of Morrissey who lives in Stretford, Manchester,in the damp and dismal Seventies. He is not yet known as Morrissey but as Steven; he has something of an awkward stance, like many teenagers, but holds a commanding stare and authoritative voice. He uses this voice in his letters to the NME, which are vitriolic in their criticism of the local music scene. Steven has cultivated a shrine to music and literature which he calls his bedroom. It is here he taps fervently on his typewriter, listens intently to his vast collection of records and cassette tapes and harbours the dream to become a singer in a band that might change the face of music. Steven lives in a time where, “fathers go to the factory and mothers to the kitchen” so any musical ambition is kept well hidden. Although he has great (and sometimes greatly arrogant) belief in his talent as a musician and songwriter, he struggles with sharing this talent and the potentially vulnerable and exposed position this might put him in. Steven struggles to find his place in the world, while detesting the place he is in.
Jack Lowden plays Steven with respect and great subtlety. It would be easy and almost expected to see a look-alike on screen, however Lowden does not impersonate Morrissey. Instead, he pays tribute with his laconic wit and low monotone speaking voice, this is a feat in itself having previously heard Lowden’s strong Scottish accent. Time seems also to be measured by the upward trajectory of Lowden’s hair, which ranges from long wavy Seventies shag to early Eighties impeccably coiffed quiff. Lowden as Steven is suitably painful to watch at times, as we see him battle with nerves, self-confidence and the humdrum small-town existence he seems to be doomed to. Along with Lowden’s performance, the cinematography in the film must be highly commended. Many shots of Steven are composed through mirrors, with the protagonist looking at his reflection and the audience witnessing this further abstracted reflection of himself. These repeated compositions throughout the film solidify and emphasise the idea of Steven trying to find who he really is.
The soundtrack that England is Mine is set to also deserves a mention. I have already seen much written about the fact that no music from The Smiths is used in the film, with many considering this to be a bold choice. However, I found this to be completely appropriate. As this is purely a pre-Smiths story we are treated to many influences of the band, such as Roxy Music, David Bowie, New York Dolls and many more I can’t but should remember.
England is Mine turns out to be a strangely uplifting story, while we don’t necessarily get a happy ending, we do get a hopeful one. Even though Morrissey is today considered something of a dour and difficult character, the idea that he was once an awkward teenager like the rest of us is oddly comforting. I don’t think Morrissey would approve of this film in any way, I imagine he would have more than just a withering comment to make. This makes me love it even more as I can envision him now, a musical idol, still tapping away furiously on the same typewriter addressing the inconsistencies and flaws in the story. This film however, much like the man himself, is human and needs to loved (Ed – Nice!).
England is Mine is on general release from Friday 4th August