Here’s a Morrissey story for you. Admittedly quite a famous one. When he was publishing his autobiography, titled Autobiography, a few years ago it was delayed due to his demand that they release it under their Classics imprint. Yeah, sure Morrissey, in one hundred years people are gonna wonder what the tempestuous life of The Smiths frontman was like. Brexit wanker.
You’d think that a biopic of the man’s young life; his years in Manchester, out of school, not yet a star would try to soften some of the man’s inherent intrinsic obnoxious awfulness. Or maybe they’d go the other route, take a look at this figure who seemed to succeed despite himself, how his better and more competent friends dragged this dead weight into the limelight. Mark Gill’s film chooses the stupidest way to go, it buys in completely to Morrissey’s self-made myth and produces no insight of value into the life of the man.
This is a film wherein the main character spends his time writing about how his coworkers are ignorant fools. Course he don’t put it like that, he Morrissey innit, so every line that comes outta his mouth gotta sound like he was given thirty seconds with a thesaurus in order to workshop it. When his colleagues find this document the film somehow makes them the bad guys for taking the piss outta him. His boss is dressed in these beige suits with ties comically wide even for the seventies. He’s the man and Morrissey hates him, the film hates him too. When his patience runs out and he finally fires the dude it’s not treated with any seriousness, it’s yet another of Morrissey’s heroic triumphs.
This is a film wherein the main character makes the courageous decision to stop taking his prescribed medication. Art is pain, don’t y’all know that. You obviously can’t be any sort of functioning artist if you also taking care of your mental health. No, you gotta stay locked up in your room, tape garbage bags over the windows. Be every sort of cliché of the suffering artist. Hang a framed portrait of Oscar Wilde on your wall. Be sadder.
This is a film wherein the main character makes supposedly groundbreaking, world-shattering music with his contemporaries. It doesn’t show him working in collaboration in any way with these people. Usually it’ll lovingly shoot the pages of his notebook in which he writes only in the neatest handwriting in lovely ink pens. Or his typewriter, where he’ll compose his thoughts into his art. Then he presents that document to his collaborators and as far as the film is concerned; there, the work is done.
This is a film wherein the main character struggles to connect with those around him. He’s nervous, can’t hold conversations, requires time and patience and trust from those around him. Those who he frequently demeans, those who he belittles, those who he don’t afford the same grace that they give him. Oh no, the moment these people get too sharp with him they’re irredeemable. Especially in the case of women, he seems beset by women, the film don’t have the notion to give these women actual character. They’re just defined by what they want out of the man, how they want to mould him.
It is a weightless, artless, characterless film. I criticised The Founder back at the beginning of the year for making the critical error of assuming that McDonalds was something inevitable and building its way up from that. England is Mine don’t just assume that Morrissey is inevitable, it refuses to countenance any other voice. The man cannot be wrong or lose because he’s Morrissey. Because every decision on his path is another step taken towards being Morrissey. Because Morrissey is the best he can be and the only he can be.
And he still a twat.
See, you now who else is a young artist, has trouble communicating, deals with mental health issues, struggles to find a balance between their art and their obligation. Me, my friends, almost all the young people in this country. This film is insulting and demeaning, it’s lovely to show us a character who can be so wilfully irresponsible safe in the knowledge that he has it all made. It’s great to have a portrait of an artist that neglects to show us any of the practicalities of making fucking art. It’s just swell to watch a film and know, without exception, that it despises everyone in the audience.
I’ve no patience for this film, no patience for the way it demeans me or the way it drags its heels all throughout the 94 minutes it’s on screen. At least I do my best. At least I can say that I am always trying to be a better person.
At least I’m not Morrissey.
England is Mine is currently screening in UK cinemas.