Under shelves stacked with weathered books, posters of glam rockers, and newspaper clippings from Manchester’s budding pop music scene, a 20-something sits alone in his room.
The influences are all around for Steven Morrissey (Jack Lowden) who is not yet the front man for the iconic English band, The Smiths. “England is Mine,” from director Mark Gill, tells the story of rocker Morrissey before he dropped his first name and crooned his way into Alt Rock history.
The film is a slow-burning take on Steven Morrissey’s upbringing and attempt to escape his working-class roots. Short on friends, Steven eschews society and chooses instead to bury his head in literature and vinyl records while searching for a deeper purpose. However, things change when he befriends fellow lit-lover Linder Stirling played by Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey”) after an underground punk concert. She plays muse to Steven, expanding his tastes, taking him to parties, and improving his social presence. She also encourages him to pursue a partnership with guitarist Billy Duffy (Adam Lawrence) and the pair ends up joining a local band.
With a chance to showcase his nascent talents, Steven Morrissey finds himself (literally and figuratively) as he turns to singing and songwriting. Drawing from his pool of influences he surprises those around him with his newfound calling. Following a successful first gig and a taste of stardom, Steven’s bright future comes crashing down when his few friends leave him for bigger opportunities in the city of London. Feeling abandoned and left alone to brood, Steven once again struggles to find a true voice of his own.
Despite its lack of draw to all but hardcore fans, “England is Mine” is a great insight into one rocker’s origin story set in a realistic 1970’s Manchester time capsule.
Much like a Smiths song, the film is melancholic with a contrasting pop soundtrack. However, it’s hard to imagine non-Smiths fans getting much out of the slow pacing and subtle drama. The movie ends well before the meteoric rise of Morrissey during the 80’s and watching a future pop star mope around for 94 minutes takes some patience.
Despite its lack of draw to all but hardcore fans, “England is Mine” is a great insight into one rocker’s origin story set in a realistic 1970’s Manchester time capsule. Jack Lowden is believable as a young Morrissey and does a good job playing for both sympathy and animosity as he repeatedly closes himself off to life outside of his bedroom. England might well belong to Morrissey but for a boy named Steven, is sure seems like it’s out of reach.
“England is Mine” is not rated. 94 minutes. Now playing at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center.