Combo, Shaun and Lol were the most compelling characters in Shane Meadows's This Is England (2006), and this big-hearted film-maker wisely saves his most powerful scenes for these three in this moving small-screen follow-up.
Three years on from the sickening violence doled out by skinhead Combo (the excellent Stephen Graham) on Milky, and Shaun (a mournful Thomas Turgoose) is still racked with guilt from his involvement in it. He's become an outsider from the gang - Woody, Lol, Milky, Smell - who embraced him and a jobless disappointment to his lovely mum, "[Your dad] expected a lot from you, son." Thankfully, sweet-natured Smell (the exquisitely quiffed Rosamund Hanson) brings Shaun back into the fold.
And while Shaun's coming-of-age story is not without interest, it's not really what grips here. What grips and twists your insides is Lol (a sensational performance from Vicky McClure), her lovers (Woody and Milky), her rapist father (a suitably vile Johnny Harris) and her unlikely saviour, Combo. The other storylines and the references to the 1986 World Cup feel like farcical filler compared with Lol's story. And the final, emotionally draining scenes ("Let me do the right thing") between Lol and Combo are raw drama of the very highest order. Hence five stars, as British TV this compelling is a very rare bird indeed.
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