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In 1982, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce, and a young man named Stephen Patrick Morrissey formed a group called The Smiths. Arguably no British band of the ‘80s mattered more. The Smiths filtered Manchester’s working-class aggression through Morrissey’s once-in-a-generation voice and the band’s remarkably literary sense of lyricism. Who else could work in references to Keats and Yeats alongside relatable sagas of longing and insecurity? Some wrote them off as too emo, but The Smiths were way ahead of their time in every way, and helped define a sound of alternative music that still exists today. Even after they split, Morrissey remained a fascinating musical figure, releasing some solo music that was nearly as good as the stuff he recorded with Marr. How did this fascinating frontman come to find his voice? There’s clearly a biopic in Morrissey’s true story. You can hear it in the timbre of his voice and the wit of his lyrics. However, it is not in “England is Mine,” a flat, disappointing drama that casts Morrissey as a mopey teenager. The man who wrote “How Soon is Now?” deserves better.
The best thing about “England is Mine” is the performance of Jack Lowden as Stephen Patrick Morrissey. Lowden, the pilot from “Dunkirk” who wasn’t Tom Hardy, is a magnetic presence, one of those actors who screams “future star.” But debut writer/director Mark Gill’s take on Morrissey is so flat and non-descript that Lowden’s natural charisma seems to be working against it at times. The film only comes to life when Morrissey does, briefly, in a moment of pre-Smiths fame. For the majority, Lowden feels restrained by a director who has a very specific, flat vision of a musical legend.
Set in Manchester in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, “England is Mine” is mostly the story of a shy, lonely, brilliant young man who hates his job and looks at the growing music scene in his city from afar. He goes to concerts all the time—one of the best beats in the film is when his friend Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay) suggests that no one gets to a concert in time to see the opening acts and Morrissey insists that he does—and writes reviews of what he sees there. He looks at billboard postings for bandmates like a kid looks at puppies in windows. Linder helps open Morrissey up to his potential and the world of art. She pushes him to get on stage, joining a group called The Nosebleeds (which also had future Cult member Billy Duffy), and Morrissey sings a cover version of The Shangri-Las’ “Give Him a Great Big Kiss.” It’s the only musical number in the movie and it’s phenomenal, capturing that young energy that Morrissey would hone over the next few years of his life. The fact that it’s a centerpiece that’s never repeated is frustrating to a point that damages the entire final act of the film.
A portrait of Steven Patrick Morrissey and his early life in 1970s Manchester before he went on to become lead singer of seminal 1980s band The Smiths.
However, it is not in “England is Mine,” a flat, disappointing drama that casts Morrissey as a mopey teenager. Critics Consensus: England Is Mine’s smartly assembled cast and strong sense, ‘England Is Mine‘ Review: Maybe the World Didn’t Need a Young Morrissey Biopic, The film begins in the late ’70s, when young Steven is still living in his family’s splintered Stretford council house and writing flippant …