Stephen Patrick Morrissey broke into the Manchester music scene in the 1980s and through his time as the frontman of seminal band The Smiths as well as a lengthy solo career, he has grown to become an icon of British indie culture. Director Mark Gill brings a portion of his story to the big screen with coming-of-age drama England is Mine, which sees rising star Jack Lowden play a young Morrissey as he struggles to find his creative voice. After succumbing to the 9-to-5 rat race to work at the Inland Revenue, he meets local artist Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay) at a gig and becomes inspired to follow his passion.
The narrative dodges the conventionality of the biopic structure by bravely zoning in on the early years of Morrissey’s life. There are nods and references that his cult fanbase will enjoy, but it doesn’t pander to this audience with obvious song choices. Instead of being littered with the sound of The Smiths, the soundtrack is made up from his influences which makes more sense given the time period. Because of this, it is very accessible and has a story that even those unfamiliar with the subject will be able to relate to. Themes of depression through artistic frustration are explored as Steven suffers soul-crushing setbacks along the way, but his brilliantly dry sense of humour shines through the bleak backdrop of 70s Britain.
Gill and Thacker’s screenplay is chockful of pithy one-liners and as well as this Steven and Linder indulge in delivering classic quotes from Wilde, Shakespeare and the like, and although Lowden might not look a lot like Morrissey physically, his uniquely enigmatic essence is captured effectively. He wonderfully portrays him to be just as wry, pensive, socially awkward and up himself as he should be. Linder wittily instructs him, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken” whereas grumpy office boss Mr. Leonard asks, “Why can’t you be more like everyone else?”. As the protagonist battles with his demons, it’s the scenes he shares with his mother, beautifully played by Simone Kirby that have the biggest emotional impact.
England is Mine is a heartfelt and often hilarious homage to one of our greatest living icons, marking a highly impressive feature debut from writer and director Mark Gill. Boasting a host of enjoyable performances that play well against a stunning soulful soundtrack, Jack Lowden is the charming centrepiece of this genuine gem of a movie.
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