It’s been three days since I saw England is Mine, so I’ve given it ample time to let it sink in, yet I’m still not sure whether it should exist or not. The best justification for its existence I have is that depicting Morrissey’s early years is a perfect opportunity to explore an artistic limbo that young creatives often find themselves in (myself included). What I’m referring to is that uncomfortable in-between state where you think you’re a genius and deserving of great renown, yet you haven’t produced much of anything. It’s kind of a push-and-pull between overconfidence and insecurity. And as far as I know, this emotion has never been committed to film before, so I can applaud England Is Mine for attempting to do that.
However, I don’t think this movie should exist simply because Morrissey’s past hardly contains any substance worth dramatizing. As far as I can tell, the circumstances of Morrissey’s early life weren’t particularly trying. It was the way in which Morrissey’s mind internalized these experiences that made these years so difficult (which is equally valid). That’s a difficult thing to portray on film, and it seems that Gill and co-writer William Thacker weren’t up to the challenge. Instead, they turn one of the few conventionally depressing things that happened to Morrissey- the guitarist of his band pursuing a record deal without him- into the emotional turning point of the film. And this choice forced me to do something I hate doing- questioning the validity of someone else’s sadness. The section of the film that depicts Steven’s spiral into depression feels overblown. It’s true that he was this depressed in real life, but he was depressed for far more complex and interesting reasons than missing out on a record deal after playing one gig. There's infrequent voice over throughout the film, yet little in this stretch of it, where it's most vital.
Jack Lowden is certainly the best part of this movie, adding layers where the script lacks them. He plays Morrissey as a narcissistic, acid-tongued prick, yet Lowden manages to let the fragile soul behind these caustic remarks shine through. That is when the dialogue doesn’t verge on self-parody. At one point he outright says something along the lines of “it’s only a matter of time before the record company discovers my genius.”
Yet the movie never shows us how brilliant Steven really is. He doesn’t pen a single lyric in the entire film. The only writing of his we’re exposed to are his self-righteous journal entries that don’t show much promise. If the movie weren’t about an illustrious songsmith, we’d wonder whether this guy had any talent at all.
This isn’t an entirely unpromising debut, however. Gil shows some signs of vision throughout. The montage that comes near the film’s final moments featuring all the locations that Steven frequented over the course of the film (recalling the ending of Before Sunrise) affectingly portrays how Steven will go on to transform his pain into art. And in several scenes, he shows he “gets” Morrissey to some extent, like when he depicts the ecstasy of furtively scribbling in a notebook at work, or the earth-shattering loneliness one feels when they sit alone in the middle of a party. That’s textbook Moz.
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