England Is Mine - Certificate 15, 94 mins, Entertainment One / Hanway Films.
Starring: Jack Lowden, Jessica Brown-Findley, Graeme Hawley, Adam Lawrence, Finney Cassidy, Simone Kirby and Laurie Kynaston.
When Control, the audacious, starkly black-and-white, uncompromisingly fragmented account of Joy Division front-man Ian Curtis; proved to be the refreshing British sleeper-hit of 2007, this was thanks largely to Sam Riley’s completely transcendent performance as Curtis.
That film, not only firmly established Riley (Maleficent, the BBC’s brilliant SS-GB, and Jack Kerouac in Walter Sallis’s brilliantly observed On The Road) as one of the most excellent, unique screen-presences of any generation, but it was also produced by Orian Williams.
Williams, also produces England Is Mine, a much-anticipated biopic of another similarly enigmatic and troubled iconoclast - the eponymous Morrisey.
Jack Lowden stars as the drably disparaging teenager. Director Mark Gill firmly posits Morrisey as an outcast, an idiosyncratic misfit, longing silently to break free from seventies socialism and the omnipresent orange of kitchen wallpaper and menial domesticity.
Stuck in a life unfulfilled by paper-pushing and a total lack of pro-active drive, the equally direction-less, somewhat meandering structure of the film (although maybe that was the meta-intention; of form mirroring content to reflect his conflicted state of mind), - is represented from Morrisey’s perspective - through which, we meet an array of characters who’re intermittant throughout his adolescence in seventies Manchester.
These include some excellent performances from Coronation Street’s serial killing English teacher John Stape - Graeme Hawley - brilliant as Morrisey’s by-the-book but sympathetic and dryly funny boss.
The film’s casting is also an excellent showcase for breakthrough talent: Finney Cassidy (brother of Tomorrowland’s Raffey) adds greatly effortless comic levity as one of Morrisey’s inescapably jeering co-workers. Adam Lawrence is superb as Billy - by turns mentor, then peer, then rival.
Speaking of stars on the rise, it’s of great testament to Jack Lowden that he is in two of the years most eagerly awaited historical accounts - both released within a fortnight of each-other: this, as well as Collins, a courageous pilot in Christopher Nolan’s blistering Dunkirk - and he was also very impressive in a pivotal role in another of 2017’s very best and underrated of films and third true-life accounts: Denial - with Rachel Weisz as a holocaust professor. He’s obviously drawn to true-life projects; look out for him as Lord Darnley in the Donmar Warehouse theatre’s artistic director Josie Rourke’s film of Mary Queen Of Scots.
The screenplay, never quite allows Lowden to really obtain the ambiguous, lost heart of the reluctant protagonist, but with a body of work as eclectic as that behind him, the film is surely in the running for the double BAFTA-nomination of the public-voted Rising Star for Lowden, as well as Best British film (just as Riley and Control did before it). Not all of the dialogue or pacing convinces, and oddly, all but two of Morrisey’s monotone songs are deliberately absent - but it’s a fascinating interpretation of an illusive talent.
Rating: * *