Before he was launched to stardom in The Smiths, Steven Patrick Morrissey was just a gloomy, depressed young man in gloomy, depressed Manchester. England Is Mine attempts to take viewers into the era and environment that contributed to his singular approach to songwriting. While it succeeds in that respect, its focus on pre-fame Morrissey means that we’re left with a subject who is little more than an unremarkable, mopey young adult, mirroring any number of generic coming-of-age tales. Unfortunately, this is a music biopic without the music, making it feel like a bit of a cheat for fans more interested in back story on the formation of The Smiths and the rise of Morrissey the artist. Instead, we get Steven the office clerk.
Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) does an admirable job of portraying young Morrissey, even through his unfortunate shaggy late ‘70s hairstyle. He brings necessary intelligence and wit to the role, and also has a convincingly similar speaking voice. Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) pops in as Morrissey’s cool musician friend Linder, acting as a source of encouragement as he tries to find his way in the world. It’s really all Lowden’s show though, with all other supporting characters finding very limited and inconsequential screen time.
Director Mark Gill competently moves the film through its paces, but even at its compact 94-minute run time, it feels overlong due entirely to its limited focus on Morrissey’s formative years. There’s only so much we need to see of his boredom in an office job, exhaustion with stifling Manchester, and longing for a place in the music world. While the talent is fine all around, the film’s glaring flaw is its failure to place the story in the era when Morrissey actually became Morrissey. Instead, as the film concludes, we’re left with feelings of what could have been as he finally approaches eventual Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr’s door for the first time to embrace his destiny.
It’s worth pointing out that Morrissey’s name is noticeably absent from the credits, indicating that he had no involvement with this project, other than penning his autobiography a few years back that was almost certainly used as the film’s primary reference resource. Having coincidentally read the autobiography days before this Blu-ray arrived, I didn’t notice any glaring variances with the facts as recorded to history by Morrissey himself, but also couldn’t help imagining the notoriously prickly Morrissey likely condemning this film portrayal for some reason.
The Blu-ray includes two brief featurettes, one with behind-the-scenes and unused footage and another where the cinematographer drones on at interminable length about his process. The disc also includes galleries and a commentary track with Gill and Lowden.