Timeline 1900 – 2022

This is England (2006)

This Is England is a 2006 British drama film written and directed by Shane Meadows. The story centres on young skinheads in England in 1983 and illustrates how their subculture, which has its roots in 1960s’ West Indian musical culture, became adopted by white nationalists.

On learning that Stephen Graham, the actor who plays the central white nationalist character, Combo, is from a mixed racial background, Meadows was inspired to develop a mixed race back story for Combo.

What tends to happen with characters is that they’re not fleshed out, but in my films people tend to bring their own stories to the film. Stephen Graham, who plays Combo, he has a mixed-race heritage. He has a Swedish grandmother, a fully Jamaican grandfather and brothers who look black, but Stephen is just very fair skinned. So when I offered him the part, he rang me one night at 1 o’clock in the morning, and he was beside himself. He said, ‘You’ve asked me to play this extreme right-wing character. But I need to tell you that my Dad’s black.’ I had no idea! So because he wasn’t as dark skinned as his brothers, he was never quite sure if he fitted in. And I thought it was very brave of him to bring it forward and use that complication for his character. So if you watch that scene with him and Milky at the end, knowing that’s what he was thinking, you can see jealousy in his eyes - he’s jealous the guy is black.

Shane said he wanted to create “a skinhead that no-one had seen before”, who didn’t just do violence for violence’s sake. Combo, although he’s frightening, can be very charismatic and Shaun looks up to him because he’s lost his dad in the Falklands. Combo’s a leader, but he’s thwarted. His feelings towards Milky [the black member of the gang] are caused by a lot of jealousy and a lot of pain. I’m mixed race myself, and we made Combo that way in the film.