England is Mine explores the teenage years of Steven Patrick Morrissey’s not quite charming life, before the iconic pop star and his music would go on to move millions. Directed by Oscar-nominee Mark Gill, a longtime fan of Morrissey and his seminal rock band, The Smiths, the film opened in the UK last week to mixed reviews.
In an interview with the BBC, Gill described being one of those lonely teenagers fascinated with The Smiths, especially since the director grew up less than a mile away from Moz’s childhood home in Stretford, Manchester. Gill could relate to being a misfit, noting that, “if you were slightly different, the pack closes in on you.” It was this early, troubled period in the life of the Morrissey that the filmmaker set out to do justice saying, “I was determined that if anyone was going to cock (mess) it up, it would be me.”
Jack Lowden was given the daunting lead role, portraying The Smiths frontman in the pre-fame teen years. Lowden who can currently be seen as a lead in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, acknowledged that, “I knew the reputation he (Morrissey) had of being quite morose.” The young actor has received accolades for his moody portrayal of the somber singer who would sit in his room all day reading, brooding and writing unsolicited music reviews he’d send to the NME.
Reviews for the film have been mixed, with The Guardian noting that, “This Charming Man is portrayed as a singularly charmless youth, crippled by the lack of Smiths music.” But NME gave the film a glowing review, “Morrissey’s early years might be rendered in glum browns, grey and blues, but it’s somehow one of the most colorful, heartening films of the summer.” The Independent (UK) was equally enamored, “it’s cleverly observed and sometimes funny too in its own very downbeat way.”
The filmmakers were unable to secure rights to the Smiths music and instead went with an eclectic set list, including ‘60s girl group tracks. The only Smiths performance in the film is a cover of the New York Dolls’ Shangri-Las remake, “Give Him A Great Big Kiss.” The film also makes little use of Smiths co-songwriter Johnny Marr, only briefly introducing the pivotal bandmate.
Without access to The Smiths music or Morrissey’s input, Gill made the most of the skills he had learned in directing his Oscar nominated short film, The Voorman Problem, which tells the story of a prisoner convinced he is a god and has also convinced the rest of the prisoners. This was probably vital training for the director who has made a film about a man who has convinced millions that he is a poet god. Lately, more longtime fans have grown disillusioned when Big Mouth Strikes Again with inflammatory statements about muslims, The Queen and Brexit, leaving some yearning for the younger, flamboyant, sensitive artist of yore.
The film opens in New York City on August 25 and expands nationwide. Watch the trailer below and because you’re dying to know what Jon Hamm thinks about The Smiths, scroll down further to satisfy your curiosity.