Shaun is twelve, high-spirited and foul-mouthed, traits that exasperate his single mother Cynthia (Jo Hartley). He is damaged and distrustful when he meets Woody (Joseph Gilgun), a tattooed teenager who runs his own little gang in their coastal town. Contrary to what you might infer, Woody is not the antagonist of the story.
He is a member of a unique subculture of skinheads, who are neither violent nor inherently racist. Leave the violence and racism to Combo (virtual unknown Stephen Graham, giving a performance that rivals Edward Norton's in American History X), an old colleague of the weak-willed Woody who leaves prison as volatile as ever.
Shaun sees a father figure in Combo, who manipulates Shaun's future allegiance. When the group breaks up, Shaun and Woody go their separate ways, and Shaun is drawn into a fanatical group of fascists who allegedly want to prevent England's rape at the hands of foreigners. But when Combo goes too far, Shaun his unsure where his best interests lie.
Shane Meadows, who found cult success with the fantastic Brit revenge thriller Dead Man's Shoes, infuses elements of his own life into this drama, which avoids making the situation black and white or relying on sentimentality.
Stephen Graham gives a standout performance as the skinhead Combo, whose very being seethes with rage and desperation. First-time actor Thomas Turgoose also turns in a good performance as the vulnerable and wayward Shaun. The movie has its violent and icky moments (Perry Benson crouched with his bare a*s on the floor of an ethnic store trying to take a dump, anybody?) but the film never becomes as exploitative or sadistic as Geoffrey Wright's Australian skinhead drama Romper Stomper.
Shane Meadows is one of Britain's most intriguing directorial names today, but I would say you need to watch Dead Man's Shoes first and foremost, for a chance to see the filmmaker at the height of his powers. Regardless, This is England is intelligent, unflinching, and savvy, and gives a fresh look into a well-known sub genre.