Director Mark Gill, who co-wrote the screenplay with William Thacker for "England Is Mine", has crafted a slow-paced , but rather interesting illumination of the seminal indie rock band The Smiths' front man, Morrissey (Jack Lowden). The biopic begins when Morrissey is just 17 years of age, a shy and lonely music buff, who prefers to write about his passion rather than perform it.
Born Steven Patrick Morrissey on May 22, 1959, he later eschewed his first and middle name, to become known only as Morrissey. Though an intellectual, preferring books over humans, Morrissey pursued only a basic public education growing up in Manchester, England.
Faithfully supported by his financially struggling mother, Elizabeth "Betty" Morrissey (Simone Kirby) and an aspiring painter, Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay), he eventually musters the nerve to sing with a band in public, only to have an opportunity to record ripped away by the manager of the record company.
Lowden, who recently starred as Collins, the second pilot in "Dunkirk", is mesmerizing. When "England Is Mine" begins, he's almost unrecognizable, sporting long dark shaggy locks, commensurate with the look of the '70s.
Morrissey suffered from severe depression, relying on prescription drugs to cope. Without allowing his character to wallow significantly in self pity, Lowden makes plain Morrissey's demons. He also is adept at allowing Morrissey's wickedly dry sense of humor and fierce intelligence to shine. Lowden carries the film with his understated performance.
The rest of the cast, especially Kirby and Jodie Comer as Christine, Steven's obnoxious co-worker, is also quite good. Brown Findlay, Sybil of "Downton Abbey" fame, has a nice turn as Steven's friend and muse.
If you are a Morrissey fan and expecting to hear a lot of his music, you will be disappointed. Since "England Is Mine" explores his early years before The Smiths, the only songs heard are the ones of other recording artists who influenced him.
Not at all familiar with Morrissey or his alternative rock, David and I went in not knowing what to expect. Gill and his cast and crew have delivered an overall engrossing and entertaining vision of the "second greatest living British cultural icon behind David Attenborough", according to a poll taken by the BBC's "Culture Show" in 2006.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!
Full disclosure: I had never heard of the band The Smiths, or Steven Patrick Morrissey, their lead singer, until a few days ago at our screening of "England Is Mine". The British group's heyday was
1982-1987, a period when I was well into the workplace and listening to other music.
I had no expectations about this movie covering Morrissey's early struggles with his musical career. However, I learned enough about his formative years, coupled with the near-hysterical reaction from the jam-packed screening audience in L.A., to recommend the film.
Director and co-writer Mark Gill presents a succinct recap of how Morrissey (Jack Lowden) and his early musical partner Billy Duffy (Adam Lawrence) got together. It takes quite a while to hear Lowden as Morrissey sing in the film for the first and only time.
Lowden ("Dunkirk") does a very capable job of portraying the iconic singer, capturing his shyness, his reticence to perform in public and his devastation when he thought stardom was imminent. Morrissey's closest female friend, Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay of "Downton Abbey" fame), and his mother Elizabeth (Simone Kirby), are his biggest supporters. It's his mother who ultimately bolsters his self esteem when he needed it most, even as he hinted at suicide.
Some of the most entertaining scenes occur when Morrissey clashes with his boss where he works as a meager file clerk. My only complaint about "England Is Mine" is the dearth of actual singing. It turns out the filmmakers did not have the rights to his music. But Morrissey's apparent large fan base, in our screening at least, seemed quite satisfied right up to the moment he and future fellow band member, Johnny Marr (Laurie Kynaston), begin their partnership.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!