England is Mine, the Morrissey biopic, is a bit of a let-down – much like the man himself. And, believe me, this is not a sentiment I’m happy to express. I loved Moz as a teenager and young adult; I still love the Moz I carry in my heart. It’s just hard to reconcile the boy he was with the immigration-hating Farage-fan he has become in later life. I hoped the film might redeem him – and it does, to some extent – but it’s a weak, diluted story, that leaves out all of the interesting bits.
There is stuff to admire: Jack Lowden is ace in the lead role, convincingly conflicted, straddling that odd line between shyness and arrogance. The first forty minutes or so are very good indeed, conveying a real sense of the stultification Steven Patrick felt, trapped in a world where no one saw more for him than the same as they had, all repetitive jobs and dull relationships. Linder (Jessica Brown Findlay) is a lone bright star, opening up the world to him. And Billy Duffy (Adam Lawrence) offers another ray of hope, another route out of this Billy Liar life: these two characters are particularly well-acted, their larger-than-life personae portrayed with impressive subtlety.
There are lots of enjoyable little references to Smiths lyrics too: we see young Moz standing ‘under the iron bridge,’ walking through ‘a darkened underpass,’ staring at ‘the rocks below.’ He and Linder enjoy their afternoons at the cemetery, claiming words as their own, or producing the texts from whence they were ripped. There is fun to be had in spotting these.
But, honestly, it’s not enough. Where’s the music? I’m assuming efforts were made to secure the rights to at least some of the Smiths’ output? Or did writer/director Mark Gill really want to make a biopic that misses out the legacy of its main man? Okay, okay, the story ends before the Smiths begin, but surely the closing credits could have incorporated something relevant? Instead, the music throughout fails to set the scene: it’s all the stuff that Moz enjoyed, but there’s no context for it, nothing to show how wonderfully out of step he was. There’s a poster for Duran Duran at the end, which goes a little way towards establishing this idea, but there’s nothing aural to consolidate it. It’s a film about music. The soundtrack really matters here.
Also, there’s half an hour where nothing happens. Almost literally nothing. Moz has lost his rubbish job; his dreams of stardom are in the dust, because Billy Duffy has left him behind. He’s depressed. He takes to his bed. On the rare occasion he gets up, he mopes. If ever there’s a perfect moment for a montage sequence, this is it. We could have whipped through this in five minutes and then moved on. Instead, we’re there with him: bored, fed-up and underwhelmed.
‘To say the least, I’m truly disappointed.’