RECAP & REVIEW: This is England ’90 – Episode 2 (‘Summer’)

So what happened?

Intent on going to an outdoor rave, Gadget and Harvey butted heads hilariously over exactly what they needed to take with them, continuing to argue throughout the journey until things came to a head when they had a fight that resulted in the map, the only means of figuring out where they’re going, flying out of the car window. Thank God for the arrival of Sat Navs since then! Sat behind them, two of their three passengers hadn’t exactly been having a great day up until that point either. Shaun had found out that he hadn’t got onto his drama course and had had yet another argument with his Mum, whilst Kelly skulked away from what we’re probably meant to presume was yet another one night stand, putting her sister and boss, Lol, in a difficult position as she blew off work to sit in the pub with a large gin & tonic, only just narrowly avoiding being left behind by her friends as they embarked on their road trip.

Kelly (Chanel Cresswell), Trev, Gadget, Higgy, Harvey, Flip and Shaun making do at a New Age party.
Left to Right: Kelly (Chanel Cresswell), Trev (Danielle Watson), Gadget (Andrew Ellis), Higgy (Joe Dempsie) , Harvey (Michael Socha), Flip (Perry Fitzpatrick) and Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) making do at a New Age party.

Picking up the broken down double act Flip and Higgy along the way, it’s not until they stop the car in the middle of the woods, admit they’re lost and drop some ecstasy that they finally find what they’re looking for, or at least a compromise that they’re all prepared to accept: a New Age party in the middle of a field, complete with bare chested, dancing ladies and other hippies with a similar level of intoxicating substances running through their veins. For some of them it’s an enlightening, if disorientating experience. For Shaun especially it offers up the opportunity to connect with an older, maternal figure in a way he can’t with his own Mother, and lay bare the open wounds he still carries from his soldier father’s death. For Kelly, however, it’s manifests in a deepening of the day-to-day nightmare she finds herself in as the ghost of her father and the impact of his abuse continue to haunt her, and with her defences completely brought down by the drugs, she’s given heroin and used sexually by three of the party goers. Once again waking up and feeling ashamed about her actions the night before, she sits and stares at her picturesque surroundings, refusing to accept Gadget’s protestations to the contrary when she tells him she’s a slag, instead bearing the weight of her past and present solely on her own shoulders.

Happy Families: Lol (Vicky McClure), Woody (Joseph Gilgun) and Milky (Andrew Shim) enjoying a barbecue.
Happy Families: Lol (Vicky McClure), Woody (Joseph Gilgun) and Milky (Andrew Shim) enjoying a barbecue.

In stark contrast to her younger sister, Lol along with Woody, Milky and other family and friends, appear to be having the time of their lives back at home at the barbecue they’re hosting, but the show being what it is, their domestic bliss is about to be ruined. This time it’s Combo’s imminent release from prison and his request for a place to stay that threatens the comfortable equilibrium they’ve found themselves in, unable to turn him down because of the sacrifice he made on Lol’s behalf and fearful of what his return will bring when everybody else finds out he’s living under their roof.

Struggling under the weight of her abusive past, Kelly appears to be sinking in a sea of guilt and shame.
Struggling under the weight of her abusive past, Kelly appears to be sinking in a sea of guilt and shame.

The Verdict?

Well, I asked for more drama last week and I damn well got it, along with some powerful, yet understated performances from Chanel Cresswell, Vicky McClure and Andrew Ellis, in fact the whole troupe were great at conveying everything from outright despair to unrelenting, drug-fuelled joy and a whole lot in between. The only missteps seemed to be the inclusion of Higgy and Flip for no other reason than as ‘comic relief’, and yet another mention of The Stone Roses which seemed to betray the writer/director’s preoccupations rather than the character’s real love for the band. Aside from that, Meadows was back to doing what he does best: showing two vastly different sides of the same coin coexisting, and Kelly’s hellish misadventure in the countryside was made all the more harrowing by contrasting it with the peace her older sister appears to have found in her urban idyll after their traumatic childhoods. Of course Lol’s happiness appears to be balancing on a knife edge with Combo’s return on the horizon, but that makes her situation feel all the more real. It’s doubtful that there will be absolute happy endings for anybody in this show. The best we can probably hope for is a bittersweet denouement, but that in itself feels much closer to real life itself.

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