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Surviving Life’s Hesitations: England Is Mine Q&A with Director Mark Gill and Actor Jack Lowden

By Anjida Sripongworakul

Wednesday 23 August 2017 Student journalists

In a special post-show Q&A at London’s Genesis Cinema, England Is Mine’s director Mark Gill and lead actor Jack Lowden (starring as Steven Patrick Morrissey) delved into their approach behind the film’s portrait of the pre-Smiths Morrissey. 

The following are compiled excerpts from the Q&A session on 12 August, moderated by Mark Donaldson, as part of Genesis Cinema and National Film TV School’s Morrissey at the Movies weekend.

England is Mine chronicles the (fictional) life of young Steven Patrick Morrissey, in the early days before fronting the Smiths and rising to become a British icon for indie rock and one of the world’s noted and most scrutinized lyricists. 

It’s been roughly 30 years since the Smiths disbanded when director Mark Gill pitched the idea of making a pre-Smiths Morrissey film around 2014-2015, with the aim to tell the story of a young man from the north struggling to turn his ambitions to reality, while subtly imbuing Smiths references into the story. Originally from Stretford, Manchester like Morrissey himself, Gill wanted his film to celebrate the rainy city, filling scenes with shots of windscreen, motifs of water, and Sodium streetlights. He referred to the earlier Control (2007) biopic of Joy Division’s lead singer as reference for depicting the beauty in the ugliness of 70s post-industrial England. Gill chose to focus the film’s 90 minutes duration on Steven’s struggles to find his place in the world, surrounded by the women in his life. Six months later, Jack Lowden was cast.

Gill knew instantly who was right for the role. “He’s a nice guy,” said the director of the moment he met Lowden for the first time, to Lowden’s laughter, “I can work with him.” Along with Lowden, Gill assembled the best actors “not in the public eye,” for the rest of the cast. The fact that Lowden garnered attention and praise for his role as RAF pilot Collins in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017), released a few weeks ahead of England Is Mine, was a happy coincidence.

Lowden discussed his approach to portraying Steven on screen. He was struck most by how funny the script was, describing the “sarcastic, cynical,” humor as similar to where he came from, “what we live and die by [in Scotland].” The actor did not grow up listening to the Smiths—whose music he described as “amazing,”—hence his decision to focus on “get[ting] it [the role] right,” while bringing the script to life, rather than worrying himself with the pressures of portraying an icon. “No matter how hard you try to mimic someone,” said Lowden of his character research, “It’s never going to be—it’s kind of pointless trying. So we were trying to come up with something that felt natural, believable.” His role as the introverted Steven allowed him to play the observer, away from the centre of attention.

The film also gave him the opportunity to invent Steven’s physical quirks, a unique touch I love about his portrayal. “The physicality of a character always interests me more than what’s going on in his head,” said Lowden, referring to the quirks as “very old school acting,” seconded by Gill as “tiny little things [he] hadn’t seen before,” in his last screening of the film a week prior to the Q&A.

Choosing not to include any Smiths song in an obviously pre-Smiths film, Gill saw the film’s music as a “character,” a reflection charting Morrissey’s emotional journey throughout the film, such as his playing girl group numbers (The Shangri-Las’ “Give Him a Great Big Kiss”, Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop”) as mental space to retreat to when stressed.

And England Is Mine’s Steven did spend a couple of scenes stressed out, on his way to becoming the Morrissey at the film’s penultimate scene. Lowden painted Steven as a young man who has “15 different versions of himself in his head and [is] too afraid to try them on,” concluding that England Is Mine is about “hesitation. I didn’t even realise it at the time, not until I watch the film—hesitation. Hesitation can kill you. Can stop you. It really can. Stop you from doing things you want to do. Being who you want to be. And if you think of the amount of time we spend in our lives wasting… ‘I wish I could say, I know I was going to say that…’ and you just waste so much time, because you’re so terrified of making a mistake, and certainly as a kid, I was like that. I hesitate like mad. I still do. And I’m constantly trying to fight my own hesitation.” The actor encouraged people to act, to make mistakes, voicing his admiration for “people who try and make mistakes,” and advised aspiring actors to “Make it for you. Everything. Just have it in your own world,” despite the distractions life can bring.

England Is Mine (2017) is in cinemas now.


Anjida Sri

I'm a Management Science (Decision Science Stream) Master's candidate at London School of Economics and Political Science. Originally from Thailand, I'm as passionate about the science, psychology, and statistics behind decision making as I am about film and writing. I enjoy opportunities to combine my passions in reviewing, discussing, and analysing films. My major influences include the New Yorker's James Wood, classic Russian literature, and Richard Siken's poetry. I've written film reviews, celebrity profiles, and news and technology coverage for my undergraduate engineering newspaper, the University of Waterloo's Iron Warrior. I'm also a guest blogger and Student Blog Editor for LSE's Department of Management. I believe pop culture, current affairs, and critical, world-changing ideas are integral to student lifestyle, and I'm committed to representing students' reality outside the classroom to society and the world. I hope to continue investigating this theme through NUS' platform for student voices.