It was a time of paisley shirts and sweater vests. Of shopping trolleys in the canal. Foggy, dimly-lit alleyways and cul-de-sacs. Of unemployment and bills and duffel coats. And it was a time when Morrissey was still plain old Steven Patrick Morrissey, a morose music critic who sends off his barbed reviews of late seventies Manchester music scene to the NME. Living at home, squirreled away in his bedroom, the turning point in Morrissey's introverted existence comes when he bumps into outgoing Linder Sterling (Brown Findlay), who in turn introduces him to Billy Duffy (Lawrence), a budding guitarist for punk outfit The Nosebleeds…
With origin stories of superheroes ten-a-penny it's refreshing that the nabob of sob, the caliph of grief, should get one too. While the other seismic moment in former Smiths frontman's life would be the disintegration of The Smiths, and the events leading up to the severing of the Marr and Morrissey alliance in 1987, this era of his life offers up some chewy drama too: Morrissey, post-school, pre-Marr's (Laurie Kynaston) knock on the door in 1982. Director Mark Gill, working from a script he co-wrote with his Full Time scribe William Thacker, has impeccably researched the time and delivers something quite restrained. England Is Mine may for stretches feel underpowered but it's really an exercise in understatement.
There are no Smiths or Morrissey tunes on the soundtrack. There are no "You’ll never amount to anything, Morrissey" lines. The dialogue or situations aren't reference points for future lyrics (a keen eye will spot influences in the visuals, however). We only see him on stage once, belting out a New York Dolls version of Shangri-La's Give Him A Great Big Kiss. His guarded sexuality isn't explored, although he does literally run away from boorish colleague Christine (Jodie Comer), the only character resembling the villain of the piece, after a disastrous date. Jessica Brown Findlay's Linder does veer into Pixie Dream Girl on occasion but she remains on the fringes of the story. While fans might have wanted a glimpse at Morrissey: The Schooldays his time with the Inland Revenue fills in for this: Morrissey's jumper-and-tie doubling up as a uniform, his co-workers nothing but immature bullies, and all his overbearing boss needs is the headmaster's cloak to make the set complete.
Jack Lowden is in tune with his director, turning in a subtle performance. His cagey and wary Morrissey is always watchful of letting the mask slip until one beautiful moment: A touching sequence that sees Morrissey descend into depression ends with a tearful plea for help from mum Elizabeth (a terrific Simone Kirby). It's not until the final act that Lowden comes to resemble the man himself; with his shaggy hair, scruffy coat and bag slung over the shoulder, Lowden for the most part bears a striking resemblance to Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous.
Morrissey will hate this. Of course.