As with any biopic centring around a popular public figure, a certain amount of artistic licence is to be expected from its makers no matter who the subject maybe. In the case of Mark Gill’s England Is Mine, the stakes are somewhat stacked even higher than usual. With an army of hardcore adoring fans, and a near God-like status amongst the music press over the last thirty years, Morrissey has had countless unauthorised biographies written about him, but until now nobody had even dared dream of basing a film on his life, and judging by the negative reaction from some of his more ardent fans, it’s easy to see why.
With a title taken from one of The Smiths most loved songs “Still Ill”, Gill and co-writer William Thacker wear their hearts on their sleeves from the get-go as two people who clearly know their Smiths mythology inside out. With tons of in-jokes and gentle ribbing of Morrissey as a mopey young man wallowing in misery and despair, no one could ever accuse the duo of not having tried their very best to appease the faithful.
Steven Patrick Morrissey (Jack Lowden) cuts a lonely figure in a Manchester music scene dominated by male bravado and bland rock bands. While punk-rock is exploding around him, the New York Dolls’ T-shirt donning young man is busy writing letters to the NME berating the latest band he has just had the misfortune of seeing, while badmouthing just about anyone he deems not cool or interesting enough. Dreaming big but lacking the courage to do anything about it, Steven is given the chance by guitarist Billy Duffy (Adam Lawrence) to join him as the two newest members of The Nose Bleeds, a ubiquitous art-punk band which is about to make the big time. Working at the Inland Revenue by day and rehearsing by night, Steven finally gets the chance to sing live in front of an audience for the first time in his life, but as luck would have it, things don’t quite turn out the way he would have hoped.
Centring the story mostly around the years before Morrissey formed the Smiths alongside Johnny Marr, played here by Laurie Kynaston, Gill does his best with a fairly passable screenplay which is slightly let down by a jarring repetitive tone and an overly expositional narrative. Lowden manages to brilliantly convey the sorrow of a tortured poet, all the while adding a certain degree of playfulness and comedic nous to proceedings, while Jessica Brown Findlay does a fantastic job as one of Morrissey’s oldest friends, artist and Ludus band member Linder Sterling.
Despite its shortcomings in the writing stakes, England Is Mine somehow manages to ignite in its audiences a certain nostalgia for simpler analogue times. Cassette tapes and vinyl records are fetishised to the point of adulation, while the “DIY” art scene of Linder et al, is used to remind us that anyone could and indeed did do it back then. Accompanied by an impressive soundtrack, which although lacking any Smiths or Morrissey music due to copyright issues, is more than enough to have any seasoned indie fan run home and fish out their favourite album to listen to.
Not only does England Is Mine reconcile its audience with music in its purest form, but as any lapsed Morrissey fan will tell you, the film even manages to ignite a certain amount of nostalgia for less controversial times, and who doesn’t want to go back to those times.
England is Mine is released on August 4th.