This is England ’90 episode one review: “brilliantly funny, but with a hint of the darkness and despair to come”

The gang have returned on top form in a mesmerising world of acid house raves and bleach bowl-cuts. Kasia Delgado welcomes back one of the most compelling dramas on TV

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If you love This is England, the very thought of a new ’90s-set series is probably a thrilling but sad prospect. This final instalment of Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne’s Channel 4 drama may be about the beginning of an era, but it’s also the end of one.

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And thankfully, this first episode is just as good as fans hoped it would be, suggesting that this series may well be a farewell worthy of its compelling characters.

For those of us who have grown up with Lol (Vicky McClure), Woody (Joe Gilgun), Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) and Milky (Andrew Shim), seeing the gang on screen again after two years feels nostalgic in itself. And then there’s the actual ’90s nostalgia, with acid house raves, ecstasy and bleach-blonde bowl cuts, are evocative of a time most of its fans are sure to feel close to (even if they never experienced exactly those things…)

Shane Meadows said at the press launch (the rather anarchic event took place underneath a record store with a rave-ready dance floor plus chips and gravy) that he’d always wanted to write the ’90s series because that time “was really important to me”. He also said that he saw this as his last chance to tell the stories he hadn’t managed to tell in the other decades. 

When we last saw the characters in ’88, the show was at its grittiest and most hard-hitting. The emotionally destroyed Lol had just reunited with Woody after her suicide attempt and although things ended on a hopeful note, she’d had a truly horrific time. Shaun, too, was crying into his mother’s arms over Smell and the group as a whole was dealing with painful separation and loss. 

This series starts on a very different note, with far more humour and lightness. Life is, or at least seems, good. Woody is a hilarious stay-at-home dad, sitting on the sofa looking very relaxed indeed as he feeds his offspring (or at least, one of them is actually his) and then, when Lol goes to a rave, he insists on instead hanging out with the kids and watching a nature documentary about tribes. His domestic life with Lol is imperfect yet happy— and it feels right that the central love story might just have a happy ending.

But while it’s a brilliantly funny episode, there’s definitely a hint of the darkness and despair to come. Shaun’s (Thomas Turgoose) sobs at the end of the episode-— he feels utterly lost in every way— are gut-wrenching and remind of the brutal realism that makes the This is England world so utterly captivating.

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This is England is in four parts and continues on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4