The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


England Is Mine

England Is Mine has a very important lesson to teach filmmakers: If you're going to make a movie about one of the greatest singer/lyricists of all time but you can't get the rights to their story or any of their music, don't even bother. This a fictionalized biopic of Morrissey, who gave the world classic songs such as “How Soon Is Now?” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” as a member of the seminal '80s band The Smiths, and “Everyday Is Like Sunday” as a solo artist. To give you an idea of how fruitless the picture is for fans, Morrissey doesn't even meet Johnny Marr until forty-seven minutes in, after which the guitarist promptly disappears until the final five minutes. And there's not a single Morrissey/Smiths song anywhere in the film. What, then, is the point?

The man we follow here is technically Steven Patrick Morrissey (Jack Lowden), a music-obsessed young man living in Manchester, England during the 1970s. He just barely works at a job he hates, hangs around with an artist named Linder Sterling (Jessica Findlay Brown) who encourages him to pursue his artistry, and tacks “band wanted” signs up on local bulletin boards, not that he meets with anyone who responds.

As for music, there is exactly one scene of Morrissey onstage singing. Given that the picture is about a musician with uncommonly devoted fans, it's odd how hard England Is Mine works to avoid being about music. It's like an Alexander Graham Bell biopic that avoids showing how he came up with the idea for the telephone. The fact that he's not yet the celebrity he later became is irrelevant. We should see more of an aspiring singer singing somewhere, even if it's just in his bedroom or the shower. Simple as that.

There are so many things about Morrissey that would be interesting to explore onscreen. After all, this is the guy who recorded a song called “Girlfriend in a Coma.” Where did his off-kilter sense of humor come from? How did he come up with the inspirations for his lyrics? How did he and Marr put The Smiths together? England Is Mine avoids asking any of these questions. Even if content to stick to the pre-Smiths era, there are ideas the movie could have addressed. Which bands inspired Morrissey? What influenced him about Manchester's music scene? What kicked off his passion for singing?

Instead of going into any of this, the film gives us one scene after another of Morrissey being miserable. It's true that the singer has frequently been described as “mopey” over the years, but nothing here even starts to investigate why he's earned that reputation. The character simply skulks around, loathing his job and showing reluctance to do any of the things that would help him advance a music career. Despite the best efforts of Lowden, the plot is nothing more than a repetitive series of moments in which Morrissey is unhappy and lacking contentment. After a while, the approach becomes exceedingly dull.

England Is Mine is a betrayal of everything a Smiths/Morrissey fan would want in a movie about the singer. Why anyone would choose to make a film about the time before he genuinely started pursuing music is a mystery. Or maybe it's really a fascinating time of his life and this picture just doesn't know how to convey that.

Either way, it's hard to imagine anybody who cares about Morrissey coming away from England Is Mine feeling even remotely satisfied.

( 1/2 out of four)

England Is Mine is unrated, but contains some adult themes. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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