A Coming-Of-Age Tale About Morrissey before The Smiths
Academy Award-nominated director Mark Gill goes in a commercially curious direction with England Is Mine, a new movie with actors Jack Lowdon and Jessica Brown Findlay. Subtitled ‘On Becoming Morrissey’ to make sure music fans know this film is about Steven Morrissey, frontman of the seminal 80’s band The Smiths, one expects a charming musical biopic of some sort with familiar tunes from the legendary group sprinkled in the mix. What we are given instead is a quiet portrait of the troubled young Morrissey before he has even met Johnny Marr, his guitarist cohort in The Smiths.
The introspective storytelling is mostly concerned about Morrissey’s frustration in working class Manchester before forming The Smiths, frustrating some fans that likely want a dramatized account of The Smiths’s glory days in the 1980s. England Is Mine is basically Morrissey’s origin story as a morosely intelligent but enigmatic young man trying to escape his dull working life for a career as a singer.
The young Morrissey is superbly played by Jack Lowdon (Dunkirk), intimately capturing the restless inner poet yearning to make his mark on the world. Steven is a restless soul, happy and content only when diving deeply into his writing and his immaculately picked record collection. Misunderstood by everyone in his family except his doting mother, the sensitive lad meets the energetic Linder (Jessica Brown Findlay). For the first time Steven meets someone like himself in the fiercely intelligent and literate Linder, growing closer together as Steven starts gaining more confidence with his music and writing.
England Is Mine wonderfully captures the young Morrissey…
England Is Mine wonderfully captures the young Morrissey…
The plot concerns the painful genesis of Morrissey’s initial music career. It’s not immediate success for the future superstar. Stuck in the working class environment of Manchester with a family that wants him in a steady office job that Morrissey loathes, there will be heartbreak and disappointments along the way.
Morrissey’s insular personality is the dramatic centerpiece that hangs everything together, which is the movie’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. England Is Mine wonderfully captures the young Morrissey in what is likely an accurate characterization of his personal issues. He’s an introspective, intelligent lad out of step with those around him, hiding an immense musical talent. But Morrissey’s emotional issues, including crippling periods of emotional withdrawal, make this a downbeat journey.
The problem is that the surly, arrogant future music star doesn’t come across as a very likable personality much of the time despite his innate ability. Which is fine when there are other characters around to keep the mood up, such as Linder. But the final act takes a melodramatic turn, isolating Steven from his associates before his big breakthrough in music. What started out as a promising biopic capturing a pivotal moment in the life of a super talent grows increasingly frustrating in the final act. After the plodding final act you are just hoping that Steven meets Johnny Marr so it can all be over soon.
England Is Mine is clearly for fans of The Smiths, but I don’t think all of them will be completely satisfied with this film. That is a shame because much of the film is masterfully crafted drama. Painting a moody, complex portrait of the young Morrissey, this movie is more a prequel to The Smiths that occasionally has its moments, but ultimately misses when it counts.
Cleopatra Entertainment in conjunction with indie distributor MVDVisual give England Is Mine a very serviceable 1080P presentation. England Is Mine might be the most perfectly average-looking Blu-ray by 2018 standards. Nothing stands out in its video that suggests anything but clean, fairly crisp picture quality.
Close-ups have fine detail and definition is generally strong. Its most notable aspect would be the occasional hues of yellow and amber that creep into certain scenes.
The 94-minute main feature is encoded in adequate AVC on a BD-25. The 2.39:1 presentation receives an ordinary compression effort with a few stray artifacts. Its contrast and black levels are decent, however a few of the darker club-set scenes have satisfactory but limited delineation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is laced with surround cues and nicely immersive moments. There is a real depth and presence to the audio, which helps a great deal for the tastefully selected line-up of songs, all suggested by Morrissey himself as personal favorites.
Tunes such as Mott The Hoople’s wonderful Sea Diver light up the soundtrack, along with the Doo Wop hits favored by Morrissey’s mother. My only quibble is the soft dialogue in its mix, occasionally overpowered by the louder and more upfront musical underbed.
Optional English subtitles appear in a yellow font, partially outside the scope aspect ratio.
It’s rare that a movie today gets its director and lead actor on a commentary together like we have here, so that is a big plus.
Sad Facts Widely Known (08:28 in HD) – A featurette containing behind-the-scenes footage from the set and unused material. There isn’t any real context provided, as there is no narration explaining what we are seeing.
Smoke & Mirrors (21:54 in HD) – This in-depth featurette interviews cinematographer Nic Knowland discussing at length his experiences filming the movie and how he achieved certain things in the film.
Image Gallery (03:42 in HD) – A series of images moving in sequence with glimpses of the production and marketing.
Director & Lead Actor Commentary – Director/co-writer Mark Gill and actor Jack Lowden in a freewheeling, friendly discussion on the film.
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