Director: Mark Gill
Screenplay: Mark Gill, William Thacker
Starring: Jack Lowden, Jessica Brown Findlay, Adam Lawrence, Jodie Comer
Duration: 94 min
BBFC Certification: 15
Few can argue that Morrissey is one of Britain’s greatest lyric writers, but the man seems to excel in making himself extremely unlikeable. From his shameless flirting with National Front imagery in the 90s, to his public support for former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, I’m surprised anyone still buys his records or attends his concerts. Normally, this sort of behaviour comes to many after achieving fame and wealth, but if the Morrissey biopic, England Is Mine, is to be believed, he was always conceited.
England Is Mine stars Jack Lowden as the teenage Steven Patrick Morrissey, living in Manchester with his Irish family. Although his day to day existence is mundane, he escapes by composing poems in his notebook and writing scathing reviews of bands for local papers. After his father flees the family home, Steven is forced to take a tedious office job, where he is bullied and unwittingly attracts attention from one of his female co-workers (Morrissey is famously celibate and has kept his sexuality private). Things improve for him when he befriends Linder (Jessica Brown Findlay) who inspires him to write more and express himself through art.
Director/writer Mark Gill has chosen to concentrate on Morrissey’s life pre The Smiths – the film ends in 1982, with guitarist Johnny Marr knocking on his front door with the view to write songs together. Starting in 1976, Steven wants to form a band, but lacks the confidence to do so. One scene shows him in his bedroom, throwing shapes which hint that the signature on-stage twisting and turning were born from awkwardness. The soundtrack to the film is pivotal to the development of the singer, including glam rock icons such as Roxy Music (although sadly no New York Dolls, for whom Morrissey ran their UK fan club), 60s girl groups and even George Formby. It is at a Patti Smith concert, that he meets guitarist Billy Duffy (who would also find fame in the 1980s as a member of The Cult) and the two form a punk band, The Nosebleeds. Although, visibly nervous when he takes the stage for the band’s first show, Steven soon becomes comfortable on stage and enjoys the experience. However, this is not to last as Duffy is signed by a manager and whisked off to London to find fame and fortune. Steven’s world is further shaken as Linder announces that she is also moving to the capital, which leaves him battling with depression.
Considering the sombre tone of a lot of Morrissey’s lyrics, England Is Mine, is quite an upbeat film with a lot of humour. Since he didn’t suffer any major trauma in his young life, the film avoids the over the top melodrama beloved of biopics. In fact, the film avoids all the obvious clichés that others would use for a drama set in late 70s/early 80s Britain – news reports of strikes, unemployment and Margaret Thatcher on TV. The film has beautiful cinematography by Nicholas Knowland, which although setting the dark tone of 70s Manchester, doesn’t fall into the trap of making the film seem miserable.
Jack Lowden, fresh from Dunkirk, expertly portrays Morrissey’s dark, sarcastic and witty humour, making him a relatable, if not entirely likeable, character. Although he doesn’t look much like Morrissey, Lowden has obviously done his research, perfectly mimicking the singer’s vocal inflections and body tics. Kudos to him for accurately portraying how depression can take hold of a person’s life, without falling into overacting. Also of note is the performance of Jessica Brown Findlay as his quirky but driven best friend Linder, who it can be argued, is the person who gave Morrissey the support and belief he needed to follow his dream.
England Is Mine is a well acted and directed film, showing the formative years of the future Smiths frontman, but one which may be of little interest to non-fans.
England Is Mine is available on DVD and distributed by Entertainment One.