England is Mine Review
Music and film are inseparable. Even silent films weren't really silent; there was always someone playing piano in the theatre to accompany the action and impart certain moods. Film stories have also been fascinated with the trials and tribulations of those who make music, from Walk the Line, Sid and Nancy, Control, Straight Outta Compton to I'm Not There. All these films deal with the tortured artist and their struggles to hold on to their sanity and dreams.
No one embodies this attitude in the musical scene more than one Morrissey, a man who has changed British pop music thanks to his introspective and, at times, depressing lyrics, accompanied by the masterful jangle of Johnny Marr’s guitar in The Smiths. The story of Morrissey's early life, called England is Mine comes to Blu-ray and DVD this November. Set in 1970s Manchester, it centres upon Steven Patrick Morrissey, stuck living at home, going to gigs and writing angry letters to the NME. However, a chance run-in with art student Linder Sterling, and an aspiring guitarist, Billy Duffy, sets him on the path to stardom.
This film is a waiting game. Unlike Control which tracks the rise and fall of Ian Curtis, England is Mine just tracks the period before Morrissey meets Johnny Marr to form every sensitive teenager's favourite band, The Smiths. It is separated into short little vignettes as our main character slowly evolves from shy retiring Steven Patrick Morrissey, who works as a clerk in the Inland Revenue, to Morrissey, poet extraordinaire. Though not quite. The film ends just shy of Morrissey achieving anything at all, it is a slow build to an anticlimactic end. It's possible the filmmakers wanted the film's last shot to be something stirring but instead it falls flat, thanks to a lacklustre story.
This misstep in the plot is not helped at all by our lead who, for all intents and purposes, sounds like a psychopath. Throughout the film, Morrissey's voiceover is prevalent, droning on and sneering at those around him. The tone of voice that Jack Lowden (Dunkirk and the up and coming Fight With My Family) gives his Morrissey adds to this slightly unsettling narration as he prattles on almost like Rorshach or John Doe or any other serial killer talking about his victims. This may be an accurate portrayal of the real Morrissey, but there is a slight issue when our main character starts out self-centred and entitled and ends in much the same place.
Compounding issues even further is the fact that he never accomplishes anything by the end of the film, so all of the proclamations of genius are for nought. He writes about how terrible other bands are; he complains that no-one appreciates his genius, but he doesn't prove that he is one. So, we are left with a character that emphasises all those things that people hate about the real Morrissey; the holier-than-though-attitude, petulance and self-absorption. Jack Lowden is a good actor, as is Jessica Brown Findley as Linder and the rest of the cast, but when your main character is all talk it wears thin very quickly.
Aside from a poorly structured movie and a main character who could have committed some murders, England is Mine, is extremely dull. The film does nothing to differentiate itself from most other films of its type. In fact, if you aren't paying real attention you might confuse England is Mine with Control. The only real saving grace is that the film is over in about 90 minutes and doesn't outstay its welcome by too much. The 50% score on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself - it's an average film (and that's being generous). It looks average, it is well-acted but has a frustrating story structure and a main character that you want to punch in the face.
To upsell this release, Entertainment One have included on a disc that works perfectly well without errors in audio or image, audio commentary from the lead actor Jack Lowden and director Mark Gill, as well as an interview with cinematographer Nic Knowland about his involvement with the film. These are fine inclusions but don't add much in the way of marketability as the film is not really that interesting, to begin with.
I suppose that England is Mine was made for fans of Morrissey and The Smiths, which is weird because the film presents Morrissey as a whiny teenager. This release really lacks anything that makes it stand out from other films like it. If you are a fan of Morrissey then perhaps you will get some enjoyment from it, as a small segment of an influential lyricist's life. For everyone else, it is a rental, or watch it on the telly-job as there is nothing that requires a second viewing.