So what happened?
In this feature length episode, we jumped ahead a few weeks and found Combo had moved out of Lol and Woody’s into a place of his own. He’d even found a job at a local community centre where his boss was not only willing to overlook his criminal record, but she genuinely seemed to be building a rapport with him as he expertly coached a group of teens from various ethnic backgrounds during an indoor football game, something that once seemed unthinkable with his links to the National Front in the past, and then perkily headed off for his lunch. Of course it was all too good to be true, and waiting for him around the corner was Milky who coaxed his former attacker into his car and took him to a greasy spoon in the middle of nowhere. After a taut conversation where genuine apologies were forthcoming and duly accepted by an equally remorseful Milky, as the relatives of the man he’d once left for dead streamed into the cafe, it soon became apparent to Combo that he was probably about to meet a sticky end. Bundled into the back of their van and taken to an abandoned warehouse, he’s handed over by them to two thugs in a room and that’s where we leave him. Judging by the fact that he’s nowhere to be seen a month later, it seems highly unlikely that he escaped with his life.
Seemingly following the opposite trajectory, Kelly was thrown out of the flat by Harvey when he caught her smoking heroin. Furious that he’d do that to her in the middle of winter, Gadget and his best friend and glatmate fought, before he headed out in search of her across the estate and even further afield, meeting up with Shaun along the way and finally catching up with her in the place she scattered her Dad’s ashes. Unable or unwilling to listen to his pleas to come back with him, and intent on not accepting the fact that he cares about her, Kelly gets one of her junkie friends to pick her up from the hill and leaves her distraught friend to be consoled by his mate. It’s not until weeks later that she realises her mistake, and having cleaned herself up, she heads to Lol and Woody’s wedding reception, emotionally reconciling with her sister and the rest of the gang.
The lighter notes in this episode came in the form of Shaun’s coming of age where he finally buried the hatchet with his Mum, delighted and awed by the fact she’d spent so much on a second hand camera complete with lenses for his photography course. He also discovered the cure for his broken heart in the form of fellow student, Juliette, who he initially impressed when he took her down onto the estate to capture ‘in the moment’ pictures, and weeks later introduced her as his new girlfriend to his none-too-impressed ex, Smell, at the wedding reception. The real heart of the the finale, however, was the events surrounding Woody and Lol’s wedding. From the meeting to plan it where she was forced to repeatedly explain to her intended’s ex girlfriend, Jennifer, that she had no intention of having her as a bridesmaid, and her Mum came to blows with Woody’s Mother; to the perfectly timed high-five during the wedding service, and the euphoric coming together of almost everyone at the reception at the miner’s club afterwards. I almost dared not to imagine such an apt ending for two people who deserved some happiness in their lives, and at last got it.
There’s been so many times when I’ve been desperate for a show I love to end on high note, and instead it completely missed the mark. Thankfully This is England wasn’t one of them. Much of the humour in this final episode was pitched perfectly, but it was the drama surrounding Combo’s demise as a direct consequence of his hubristic actions in the past that elevated this final installment to a higher level. The images of racial violence and professed patriotism by the likes of the National Front shown from newsreel footage are as unnervingly relevant then as they were twenty five years ago, which is why Shane Meadows’ masterpiece about alienation and the importance of a sense of belonging becomes something much greater than entertainment, or even ‘poverty porn’. In fact, it seems vital as a piece of work that helps us to join the dots and understand how where we’ve been might make us better equipped to determine where we’re likely going in this current political climate. After all, history is doomed to repeat itself.
When Combo is bundled into the van by Milky’s relatives and then handed over to who we presume are his former NF cohorts, it’s mirrored earlier in the scene where he tells his former victim, “It wasn’t even about the colour of your skin. I was just jealous.” The point we’re perhaps meant to draw from it all seems to be that rage, at personal injustices and the world in general, will bubble under the surface and manifest itself in whatever way is easiest; be that racial violence or other misplaced prejudices. It’s blind, insidious and has consequences that blow back on the person experiencing it if they don’t deal with the reasons for their anger. For Lol and her sister, the clouds have finally parted on the horizon because they’ve finally found their place within a caring and supportive group. The same goes for Shaun. Even Combo momentarily found some peace of mind when he found God in prison and the crucifix tattooed on his forehead became more than empty symbolism. On the other hand, for Milky, the revenge he thought he wanted has only made his future seem stormier. Anger, and the actions is propagates, eat away like a cancer until only the husk of humanity remains and so, once beaten and left for dead because of a man’s jealousy that he had people who loved and cared for him, he’s left as an unhappy onlooker by the lie he has to keep from his best friends for the rest of his life. It’s a crying shame, but also a valuable lesson. One that we can all learn from.