Oscar nominee Mark Gill directs this unofficial Steven Patrick Morrissey biopic, featuring Jack Lowden (last seen as a Spitfire pilot in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk) as the outspoken The Smiths frontman in the subdued years leading up to the moment Johnny Marr turns up.
It’s a muted affair all in all; the script thin and relatively drama-free, which proves irritating considering the assured performances and flashes of brilliance that do flair up. Steven Patrick Morrissey is painfully introverted, always living on the fringes, despite his desire to prove himself better than everyone else. He flits in and out of work, strikes up a rather charming friendship with Linden Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay), who helps push him when needed, and spend days and hours writing lyrics, hauled up in his bedroom where he battles depression and obsesses over literature.
England is Mine plays out as more of a coming-of-age drama than a standard biopic. Teenage angst is a big focus, as are the relationships Steven shares with the women in his life, whether it’s Linden or his mother (Simone Kirby), who offers words of encouragement during a particularly low episode in Steven’s mental health. It’s a welcome change as it means both Brown and Kirby have a lot to work with. Brown, in particular, is a charming presence, and the chemistry she shares with Lowden is naturally believable. Lowden is undoubtedly the stand-out of the film. His version of Morrissey is that of a guy whose ambition is larger than he believes his worth to be at that stage in life.
And yet that’s part of the problem with the film itself: it takes a long time to warm up and doesn’t offer too much in the way of depth. The flashes we see of the star to be are compelling, but there aren’t enough of them. Gill and co-writer William Thacker have a decent grasp of mood, creating a sense of misery in which Steven wallows – the film covers a time when he spends six weeks in bed, weighed down by a melancholic outlook. This is enhanced by a hazy aesthetic that reflects his headspace, perhaps a bit too much with the repetitive crashing of waves. The film, too, is funnier than expected, its sardonic humour a neat touch.
Due to rights issues none of Morrissey’s music is used. Instead, the soundtrack is made up of the bands that influenced The Smiths’ eventual sound including Roxy Music, David Bowie and The Sex Pistols. It’s not an issue, but the film could have done with an injection of energy, which would have helped it reach heights of excellence rather than settling for mediocrity as a satisfactory look into Morrissey’s life pre-fame and pre-excitement. England is Mine works far better as an evolution of a star pre-fame than anything else. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – just different from what audiences may expect.
Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish