Amid the snowstorm of implausibly picture-book Christmas televsion, This Is England ’88 stands out like a reindeer with a red nose. There may not be an inch of snow on the bleak working class vistas in Shane Meadows’ festive reprise, but the landscape seems to freeze us nonetheless. At the centre of this malaise is Lol, who’s world was rocked in the earth-shattering finale of last year’s TIE ’86. Two years down the line and she’s still haunted the memory of her demonic father (the excellent Johnny Harris, who’s since popped up in The Fades).
Other characters seem to be doing slightly better though and the ever-popular Woody has a new ‘posh’ girlfriend and a promotion to worry about, although despite his parents’ delight, he doesn’t seem too enamored with either. You know the Christmas tranquility at his house probably won’t last long and besides, if ever anyone needed saving, it’s Lol. As his ex-fiance struggles to bring up her daughter and come to terms with the way she drove Woody away, you can almost smell a future for them, no matter how turgid. Speaking of Smell, she’s now seeing Shaun, who’s attending college, flirting with his co-lead in the school play and telling his mum’s new fella to “put some bloody clothes on”. In truth, the rest of the cast don’t get much of a look in at this stage, but we can expect to hear more of them and Gadget’s swollen balls over the next couple of nights. Let’s hope Combo makes an appearance a little earlier this time, although his cameo at the death (as it were) last time was a thing of true wonder.
Thus, as with ..’86, the first episode is very much a scene-setter and we open with a newsreel montage played out to a soundtrack from The Smiths. Meadows has always used piano-dappled scores to wring every last fibre of emotion from a scene and here he mixes that in with bands like The Cure – many of who’s tunes are made for it. Brick mobiles, yuppy traders and the booming London, but also glimpses of Lockerbie, the troubles in Ireland, Thatcher, Gadaffi and the American election. It’s a clever prologue because it serves to illustrate that although the world is about to become a much larger place, Britain is sill more divided than ever. How much this has changed our gang remains to be seen, but it might have been nice for Meadows to break the format and get this one moving faster, sooner. Pacing issues aside, TIE remains a fine piece of immersive drama and an antithesis to the festive TV stereotyping. Let’s just hope that Lol survives to see her name become a word.