“The past does matter…it shapes the future if we face it”
After two uneven and (sometimes painfully) slow episodes of This Is England ’90, we returned to the familiar drama that has defined the film/TV series. Let’s face it; the drama and darkness are what we have been waiting for. It was necessary and nice to see our characters being happy, but what we wanted was misery, tears and arguments. For better or worse, that’s what we received in ‘Autumn.’ The sunlight is fading, and the cold nights are drawing in. Happiness is being sucked out of our characters slowly but surely…
Fittingly, the episode opened with a nightmare. Lol dreamed of her father shouting her name, obscured by plastic curtains. He’s a reminder of a terrible past, and a terrible past that Lol would have to dig up throughout the episode. Combo was being released from prison, and Lol and Woody had agreed to house him upon the release. That meant telling the truth about what happened to Lol’s dad, and telling everybody that Combo was coming back…
“It’s a lot for her to take in”
The centrepiece of ‘Autumn’ was a post-dinner revelation. Lol and Woody invited Milky, Trev, Kelly, Lol’s mum, Helen (Lol’s therapist) and Shawn round for a Sunday dinner. Of course, Lol had something to reveal…She told Kelly that it was her, not Combo, who killed their father. Their father had raped Trev before the murder. The empty Kelly we saw in ‘Spring’ was all dolled up at the dinner, but was not willing to believe the accusations about her father. Cue tears, shouting (and lots of it), and an engrossing yet hard to watch breakdown of the characters who have been so close in the past two episodes.
For sheer realism, the post-dinner tribulations were unparalleled. It’s obvious a lot of the dialogue was improvised (the repetition of certain phrases was a case in point) and that added an extra layer of harshness to proceedings. Kelly’s refusal to believe Lol’s revelation, and her repeated question of the identity of Helen, made it hard to turn away from the screen, yet very painful to watch. Woody wasn’t the carefree, humourous chap of recent episodes. He was a crying, sensible influence, trying to calm down the situation.
However, as Lol had Kelly to contend with, Woody has Milky to sooth. After Kelly left, there was a brief moment where things cooled down, and the storm seemed to be over. However, when Woody asked Milky ‘Are you alright?’, the storm continued, just as fierce as before. Milky refused to believe that Combo had changed from the racist so and so who beat Milky to within an inch of his life. Milky didn’t want his child living with Combo, and promised to take her away if Combo moved in. Woody preached forgiveness, just as he had forgiven Milky for sleeping with Lol, but it fell on deaf ears. The argument continued in silence; Meadows’ way of telling us that nothing had been resolved.
“Drive safe…don’t drive angry”
A single dinner split up our happy characters. Combo’s return made amends for that; the flood of tears from both Combo and Woody upon seeing each other a reminder that their friendship is about to be rekindled. Forgiveness was a theme right from the beginning of the episode, as Combo gave reasons as to why he should be released. He wanted forgiveness from those he had wronged, but also wanted to forgive those who had wronged him. Stephen Graham was the standout performance in a sea of outstanding performances in ‘Autumn.’ It’s his story of redemption that stuck with me the most. But I fear that Milky isn’t about to readily forgive Combo. And, let’s be honest, this is ‘This Is England.’ Will Combo find redemption, or a severe beating at the hands of Milky and whoever he was talking to on the phone?
It really says something about the audience when this is the kind of drama we want to see when This Is England is on. We wants tears, we want blunt truths to tear apart happy families. Why is that, I wonder? Because we have been trained by Meadows to expect the worse? Or do is it schadenfreude? Or something else completely? That’s why I haven’t fully enjoyed the past two episodes. Of course, they are necessary to build up the façade of our characters living in perfect harmony, without a care in the world. But we want to see that façade crash down, don’t we? And it did spectacularly in ‘Autumn.’ Easily the best episode so far, and one of the best episodes of the This Is England TV series. The drama we know and love is truly back. But how will it end? No prizes for guessing: ‘in tears.’ Get ready, because Winter Is Coming…
VERDICT: 9/10. One of the best hours of TV this year, undoubtedly. The misery is back in This Is England, and don’t we love it!
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(Click here for my review of This Is England ’90: ‘Summer)