Directed by Mark Gill, Written by: Gill and William Thacker
Before he was the frontman of The Smiths, Morrissey was still very much the figure he comes across as in his lyrics: depressed and weary of other humans. That is essentially the premise of this most recent biopic, which notably cuts-off shortly after he meets Johnny Marr and becomes established as a star. In essence, it is a film based on a mostly-good premise, that due to the narrow confines of the biography-genre ends up being, not awful, but certainly rather boring.
The story follows Morrissey’s (Jack Lowden) struggles as a young worker at an accounting firm, and his outings with various friends/quasi-girlfriends who are clearly impressed with his writing talents and eager to promote his star, but who get little help from him whatsoever. The young Morrissey can write endless strings of insults, and boasts a massive library of classic literature. While he is easily unimpressed, he shows sincere appreciation when he hears quotes from these works or when given the chance to share his record collection. Another ambiguity in his personality is the source of his depression. The film makes clear it is not a mere performative quirk by showing his use of anti-depressants, while simultaneously implying that some of his sadness may be a genuine reaction to his having the seemingly hopeless dream of becoming a rock singer. It is to the film maker’s credit, that all possible explanations for Morrissey’s troubles are presented in moderation. He may have had Disney-esque dreams, but the film rightly knew not to present said dreams with Disney-esque sentiment.
Young Morrissey is a compellingly frustrating character. There are several moments when he seems on the verge of making a human or musical connection, and yet the combination of his shyness and cynicism pulls him away from it. If the writers of the film had been willing to take this persona and transform it into a Morrissey-type, or simply take creative liberties with his life story (and perhaps experiment more with non-conventional/non-linear narrative) they might have a created a compelling film. Instead, however, Morrissey’s personality is hung out to dry, as in his realistic existence, it is left with no plot to interact with. While the film ultimately brings Morrissey and Marr together, this ending has little to do with the drama (or lack there of) that ensues beforehand.
An odd omission from the work is Morrissey’s vegetarianism (he became vegetarian at age 11). While the topic is hinted at (there is a joke about how he only eats toast), given his otherwise explosive persona, it seems a shame that the film did not use his “meat is murder” sentiments as a means of adding more tension to the screenplay.
England is Mine’s slow realism spares it from sappiness, saving its entertainment value somewhat. Hardcore Morrissey fans, as well as those familiar with the work of his friend, the artist Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay) may still get something out of it. Nonetheless, the flamboyant nihilism of the Smiths unfortunately fails to translate to this mundanely nihilistic story.