British Film Essay: Ideology

Both, This is England (Shane Meadows, 2006) and Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) are defining films of the 90s and both deal with growing up in poverty/deprived urban environments. The two main characters, Shaun and Renton, are seen falling into the wrong crowd as we explore themes of friendship and peer pressure. Both young protagonists are flawed but engaging at the same time. Although sharing similarities in terms of ideologies, both films can be read in alternate ways with different intentions from both directors, Meadows and Boyle.

Trainspotting follows the life of Mark Renton and his three friends: Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie as they are enthralled in a life of drugs and violence. The film begins with Renton’s ‘Choose Life’ monologue in which he describes the boring nature of everyday life and lists reasons why one would choose to take drugs instead. However, this is ironic as by the end of the film, Renton has abandoned his old lifestyle and wants all the things he previously mocked.

A preferred reading of Trainspotting would be that the director is presenting the way in which drugs destroy lives and the film is a message of warning to the upcoming, younger generation. However, an oppositional reading is perhaps that this lifestyle chosen by Renton and his friends is a great alternative to everyday life, which is particularly boring in comparison.

The film defines youth culture of the 1990s by exploring characters who attempt to escape society by creating an alternative lifestyle taking drugs. Trainspotting uses binary opposites of reality and fantasy to explore this chosen lifestyle. The film is set in reality but the introduction of fantasy elements portray the effects of taking drugs. These are used to develop the audiences understanding of the experience of taking drugs. The most notable example of a fantasy sequence which explores the experience of drugs would be Renton’s hallucination when he is going cold turkey and finally stopping drugs. The director provides the audience with multiple close up shots of Renton clearly feeling uncomfortable as he is trapped in his small bedroom. The close ups and the small space further reinforce the idea of Renton being trapped in this world with no escape from his nightmares. As well as this, Boyle presents us with the realities of taking drugs and engaging in this dangerous lifestyle. An example of this would be the harrowing death of the baby which all the characters are forced to face. The close up shots which show the baby has died purposely make the audience feel uncomfortable and therefore imply this lifestyle is not something to be desired.

Trainspotting creates the idea of created families is again demonstrated but here Boyle uses the binary opposites of isolation and inclusion. Throughout the film, Renton is consistently present alongside the other members of his friendship group, who also share the same lifestyle as him. Boyle creates the idea of closeness within the group through the fact they are always together, sharing the same house and being part of each other’s experience. However as the film progresses, Renton begins to isolate himself from the rest of the group, the first instance possibly being his decision to quit drugs. This disassociates him from the lifestyle his friends love so much. Later in the film Renton moves to London which is a complete contrast to Edinburgh. The London montage sequence features upbeat music with rapid editing and brighter colour, making it appear superior to Edinburgh. This could imply Renton is trying to become a better person and remove himself from his previous lifestyle. The film ends with Renton stealing the money him and his friends made from a drug deal. Renton makes the decision to run away and not look back on his friendship group, completely isolating himself on his own terms. This could imply that the desired drug lifestyle is not as appealing as it was made out to be in the initial stages of the film and instead a more simple lifestyle is preferred.

Trainspotting uses binary opposites to juxtapose those who take drugs and those who do not. At the beginning of the film, the main characters: Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are introduced to us playing football against an opposing team. The boys appear disheveled in their appearance with messy clothing that doesn’t coordinate. The use of mise en scene effectively presented the drug users as the more careless group who don’t aim to fit in with society. On the other hand, the opposing team of non drug users all wear identical uniforms and look much more put together. This would suggest that although simialr ages and part of the same youth culture, both groups take seperate routes in terms of life choices. Later in the film, we discover Begbie doesn’t take drugs like the rest of his group, but ironically he is the most violent of all characters in the film. Begbie criticises the boys for taking drugs but behaves immorally himself, for example when he throws a glass over the bannister at a pub. This would imply that all characters have an element of corruption to their lifestyles and that, in this instance, taking drugs is not the most immoral of all behaviours.

This is England is another film which follows the alternative lifestyle of the youth culture. This is England is an autobiographical film based on Shane Meadows’ experience growing up in Nottingham. Shaun, who feels lonely and isolated in his daily life, joins the Skinhead gang which leads to him joining Combo’s more dangerous, racist group. During the 1980s, skinhead culture was prominent, with one half engaging in Jamaican music culture and the other largely concerned with racist attitudes, particularly ideas associated with the national front.

A preferred reading of This is England would be that the skinheads are presented in a positive light, demonstated through Woody’s group of friends who care for Shaun and welcome him into the gang. An oppositional reading may continue to associate skinheads with racism, as was common of the 1980s with the group increasingly associated with the national front and racist sentiment, shown through the presentation of Combo.

Similarly to Trainspotting, This Is England also explores the youth culture through the different types of Skinheads. There are two different types of Skinheads demonstrated by Combo’s and Woody’s groups. Meadows uses montages to successfully contrast the alternate values of the different youth culture. Through Combo’s montage, the audience are aware, through the use of non diegetic piano music, that there is more of a sad/angry feel. This would reflect  Combo’s racist attitudes and the effect this has upon the other characters within the film. Combo’s opinions are reminiscent of the time period where racism was prevalent. To contrast, Woody’s group montage features upbeat Reggae music, popular at the time, which shows they are more accepting of different cultures. During the group montage, we are presented with a series of snapshots which show the group all having fun and enjoying themselves. Again, this suggests that Shaun is better off as part of Woody’s group who offer fun and make him feel welcome, rather than Combo whose racist ideals make other characters feel uncomfortable.

This is England includes the idea of created families, using binary opposites of affection and manipulation. Combo is the manipulator while Woody takes on a more paternal, affectionate approach. When first introduced to Woody, we see him welcome Shaun into the gang and comfort him by making jokes about Harvey, a boy Shaun fought at school. This presentation of Woody is repeated throughout the film where he tries to steer Shaun away from Combo’s gang, being aware of his bad intentions. When talking outside the cafe, a preferred reading would suggest that Woody and Combo are not as close as we were led to believe when Combo returned from prison, where we saw close ups of the two men hugging and welcoming each other back into their lives. When we meet Combo, his racist monologue makes other characters feel evidently uncomfortable, in particular Lol. From her facial expression accompanied by the slow piano music, we identify Combo as a negative character whose views are distressing for others. Combo here begins to manipulate other characters into agreeing with his point of view, foreshadowing his later conversations with Shaun where he manipulates him by talking about his father. The ending of the film clearly shows the audience that Combo is a negative influence on Shaun’s life as he repeatedly cries after witnessing Combo beat up Milky.

Meadows focuses on the ideology of masculinity and femininity but does not present them as binary opposites as Trainspotting does. Instead, both genders are presented as very similar, especially in terms of appearance. During the group montage where the whole gang are out enjoying themselves, there is no major distinction between the male and female characters as they have simialar hairstyles and choice of clothing. The use of mise en scene would suggest that youth culture does not restrict based on gender and the focus is more central around the skinhead movement.

Both This is England and Trainspotting include ideologies relevent to the culture of the time in which they were made. In This is England, the skinhead movement is most prominent of all ideologies but Meadows incorporates other ideas of created families and masculinity to separate the different groups of skinheads. For Trainspotting, drug addiction is the most prominent ideology and the fate of the majority of characters would make us feel inclined to follow the preferred reading of the film which suggests taking drugs is a dangerous path to follow.

British Film – Essay Plan

How are ideologies, including binary opposites, explored in your chosen film?


  • Ideology = messages and ideas the director is trying to portray within the film.
  • Trainspotting and This Is England are both films that represent England and Scotland in the 1990s. They both explore similar aspects of growing up in the Uk. Trainspotting shows how young people are affected by poverty, as this lifestyle leads them into drug addiction which is presented as ‘cool’ within the film. Similarly, in This Is England, ideas of poverty are dealt with as all characters are living in a more deprived area of the UK. Shaun’s engagement with other characters introduces themes of friendship but also racism as he gets in with the wrong crowd.
  • This Is England – ideologies include binary opposites like: racism/liberal, white/black and young/old.
  • Trainspotting – ideologies include reality/fantasy, men/women and violent masculinity/hegemonic masculinity.
  • Preferred readings

Paragraph 1:

  • Trainspotting – men and women
  • Film is focused around the male experience, most camera time is spent with the male characters, Renton in particular as the story is told through his perspective. At the beginning of the film, the male characters are introduced through a series of title cards which inform us of their names and provide us with information about their characters. The female characters are seen on the sideline of the football game which suggests they are going to be less important to the overall plot.
  • Gender stereotypes are further reinforced during the clubbing sequence where Spud and Tommy chat while Gail and Lizzy do the same thing. The parallel editing shows us that both pairs are discussing sex, yet when they all reunite, the boys insist they were talking about “football” while the girls say they were talking about “shopping.” This shows the directors instilling in the audience the gender stereotypes that remain prominent today.

Paragraph 2:

  • Trainspotting – reality and fantasy
  • The film is set in reality but the introduction of fantasy elements portray the effects of taking drugs. These are used to develop the audiences understanding of the experience of taking drugs.
  • The most notable fantasy sequences includes Renton’s hallucination when he is going cold turkey in coming off the drugs. The director provides the audience with multiple close up shots of Renton clearly feeling uncomfortable in his small bedroom with no escape. The close ups and the small space of the room further reinforce the idea of Renton being trapped in this fantasy world with no escape from his nightmares. The dream like sequence has a notably nightmare-ish essence as Renton pictures the dead baby and other harrowing images.
  • An aspect of reality that portrays the effects of this lifestyle would be Tommy’s death. Tommy died shortly after getting hooked on heroin after him and his girlfriend broke up. They broke up because




  • Renton and Spud running from the police, Renton is narrating
  • Renton smoking in house
  • Football sequence – Spud, Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie
  • Renton smoking in house
  • Sick Boy, Spud and Renton in house doing drugs
  • Begbie’s speech about not doing drugs
  • Renton sat in kitchen with his mum and dad, talking about him stopping drugs
  • Renton decides he is going to quit, buys final drugs
  • Renton preparing to come off drugs (places all the things on the table, ice cream, etc…)
  • Renton goes to Mikey for his last hit
  • Renton ends up constipated after taking the drugs and goes to the toilet in the bookies
  • Renton hallucinates
  • Renton meets Sick Boy in the park, they search for a target to shoot
  • Sick Boy’s speech
  • Renton shoots the dog which then jumps in pain
  • Renton meets Spud for a milkshake
  • Renton gives Spud drugs
  • Spud goes to his interview and messes it up because he’s on the drugs
  • All the boys are in the pub, Begbie tells a story
  • Renton and Tommy at Tommy’s house – Tommy tells the real story while Renton steals his sex tape
  • Back to the pub – Begbie throws a glass over bannister and it smashes over someones face
  • Sick Boy and Renton watch Tommy’s sex tape
  • Clubbing scene – Tommy and Spud talking while their girlfriends are talking about the same thing
  • Renton is on his own – catches Dianne before she leaves the club
  • Renton goes back to Dianne’s house – start having sex
  • 3 parallel sequences of Tommy, Spud and Renton all having sex at the different places
  • Tommy and his girlfriend stop having sex as they realise their sex tape has gone missing
  • Spud wakes up in bed alone
  • Renton wakes up on the sofa outside Dianne’s room – 3 parallel morning after sequences of the 3 boys
  • Spud in bed again
  • Renton meets Dianne’s mum and dad but thought they were her flatmates
  • Spud’s accident with the sheets at the breakfast table
  • Renton walks Dianne to school
  • All the boys (except Begbie) go to the hills
  • Renton’s speech – they all leave
  • Back at house they talk about getting Tommy back on heroin
  • Boys rob old people for drugs
  • Begbie beats up a man at the pub
  • Back at the house the baby is found dead – Sick Boy was the baby’s father
  • Running from the police
  • Spud and Renton get caught and end up in court
  • Spud gets sent to prison, Renton put on a rehabilitation course
  • Everyone goes to the pub to celebrate Renton’s release
  • Spud’s mum walks in and Begbie tells her she is to blame
  • Renton goes to mother superior for more drugs – he overdoses
  • Renton has to go cold turkey and come off drugs
  • Renton’s parents lock him in his room he starts hallucinating and imagining things
  • Renton is sat at bingo – signifies him doing what normal people do as they get old
  • Renton meets up with Dianne
  • Relocate to London – 90s music sequence shows what London is like
  • Renton gets a job as an estate agent
  • Begbie arrives to see Renton in London
  • Renton and Begbie go clubbing
  • Begbie thinks he is getting off with a woman – turns out its actually a man
  • Sick boy arrives to see Renton in London
  • Renton puts his passport in a locker
  • Sick Boy and Begbie are at the house Renton was trying to sell – they jump out of the cupboard as people are being shown around
  • Tommy’s funeral is held back in Scotland
  • Flashback of kitten during the funeral
  • The boys come up with a plan to sell drugs
  • Renton samples the drugs first in the house
  • Renton samples the drugs again on the bus
  • Drug deal takes place successfully
  • Begbie gets in a fight at the pub
  • All boys are sleeping
  • Renton wakes up and takes the money from the drug deal
  • Spud notices he leaves but stays quiet
  • Renton puts money in the locker for Spud
  • Begbie wakes up realises money has gone – he goes mental
  • Spud goes to the locker and finds the money Renton left
  • Renton leaves with the money
  • End of the film


  • Begbie attacks a man
  • All boys do drugs
  • Sick Boy method
  • Renton and Sick boy in the park
  • Renton shoots the dog in the park
  • Renton goes to meet Spud for a milkshake before his interview
  • Renton gives the drugs to Spud
  • Spud messes up his interview
  • Begbie in the pub – throws the glass over the bannister smashes on someone’s face
  • Renton goes to Tommy’s house – Tommy tells the real story while Renton steals his sex tape
  • Sick Boy and Renton watch Tommy’s sex tape
  • All the boys go to the club
  • Tommy and Spud talking while their girlfriends are talking about the same thing
  • Renton is on his own at the club, catches Dianne as she leaves
  • 3 parallel sequences of the boys having sex – Spud, Renton and Tommy
  • Tommy and his girlfriend stop having sex as they realise their sex tape is missing
  • 3 parallel morning after sequences – Spud, Renton and Tommy
  • All boys (except Begbie) go on a walk to the hills
  • Tommy and Lizzie break up and he does heroin
  • First day of Edinburgh festival – stealing from old people
  • Chase sequence – running from police
  • Renton and Spud end up in court – Spud sent to prison, Renton on rehabilitation course
  • Everyone in pub celebrating Renton’s release
  • Begbie tells Spud’s mother she is to blame
  • Renton goes to mother superior for drugs and ends up overdosing
  • Renton made to quit cold turkey – locked in his room begins having hallucinations
  • Renton is clean from drugs and relocates to London with his estate agent job
  • Begbie goes to London
  • Renton and Begbie clubbing
  • Sick Boy goes to London – sells Renton’s TV and tries to sell his passport
  • Renton puts them in the house he was trying to sell
  • Begbie and Sick Boy jump out at the people being shown round the house
  • Tommy’s funeral back in Scotland
  • Drug deal proposition
  • Renton samples the drugs at home first
  • Renton samples drugs again on the bus
  • All are back in London – Spud there too this time
  • Drug deal is successful
  • Celebrate in the pub – Begbie has a fight
  • All asleep, Renton wakes up and takes the money
  • Spud notices Renton but remains quiet
  • Begbie wakes up realises the money has gone – goes mental trashing the house
  • Renton leaves Spud the money in the locker
  • Spud collects his money from the locker
  • Renton walks away with the money
  • End of film


  • Narration is through Renton’s perspective which is arguably unreliable. Throughout the majority of the film, Renton is on drugs which means a lot of his thoughts are distorted and could have therefore been inaccurate. Also, due to the drugs, Renton experiences a lot of hallucinations (for example in the public toilet) which makes it difficult to indicate the time of which these events took place.
  • Although we follow Renton’s perspective through the majority of the film, there is more time spent with other characters in this film, an example of this being the sequence in the club where we see more of Tommy and Spud’s characters.

This is Englaplot


  • British culture montage – Royal Wedding, Embassy Explosion.
  • July 1983 – Last day of term for Shaun
  • Shaun and Harvey get in fight at school
  • Boys are punished – Harvey gets the cane
  • Shaun walks home meets Woody and the gang
  • Radio update on the war
  • Next day – Gadget turns up at Shaun’s house and invites him to go hunting with the boys
  • The boys go hunting, smash up buildings, leave Gadget behind who gets upset by this
  • Shaun goes shoe shopping for his Doc Martins
  • Shaun is initiated in the skinhead group after getting new clothes and a haircut
  • Montage of the good times – gang playing football, walking together
  • Shaun’s mum is angry about his new haircut
  • Cafe sequence – Shaun’s mum is not happy at the gang, Woody appologises
  • Gathering at house whole gang present
  • Shaun and Smell go to garden together
  • Combo and Banjo introduced
  • Back to Shaun and Smell in garden when they first kiss
  • Combo in the house telling a racist story from when he was inside
  • Shaun talks about his dad who died in the war – he is angry at Combo
  • Next day Combo takes the boys who joined his group to a meeting where racism is encouraged
  • On way home, Combo kicks Pukey out the car for not agreeing with his beliefs
  • Arrive back to Mr Sandi’s shop where Shaun is racist and tries to steal alcohol
  • Mr Sandi and Combo have an argument – Combo threatens him with physical violence
  • Combo’s gang arrive at Smell’s birthday party
  • Shaun and Smell go for a chat upstairs where they become boyfriend and girlfriend
  • Time has passed – Combo finds Lol on the street asks her to talk, they go to his car and he tells her he loves her
  • Combo is rejected by Lol and he cries in his car as she leaves
  • Smell meets Shaun’s mum
  • Smell and Shaun arrive at Combo’s house
  • Combo meets Milky on the street, they go back to Combo’s
  • Combo decides to beat up Milky due to his racist beliefs
  • Shaun is begging him to stop, he starts crying and panics
  • Shaun has to help Combo move Milky’s body
  • Montage of the end of the War where British were victorious
  • Shaun in his room, talks to his mum about missing his dad
  • Shaun goes to the beach and throws his England flag, received from Combo, into the sea
  • End of film.


  • Embassy explosion, 1980
  • Royal Wedding, 1981
  • End of war, 1982
  • July last day of term, 1983
  • Story begins same as it is on the plot from here.

All 3 Montages are used to present a clear image to the audience of what England was like during the time Shane Meadows was growing up. The montages are used alongside Shaun’s story as they relate to the topics raised within the film, for example the War and the predominantly white, racist that prevailed during the 80s.


  • The narration of This is England is done through Shaun, as he is the man character. In terms of the context as the film, this makes sense as it is an autobiographical of Shane Meadows’ childhood. Therefore, we see more of Shaun to gain a greater understanding of Shane’s life growing up.
  • Shaun’s narration is reliable as he shares the experiences he lives through while they are taking place. This contrasts with Renton’s narration in Trainspotting which is partly retrospective.

Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)

Danny Boyle as an auteur:

  • Danny Boyle has been successful in creating films that show an innovative style, Trainspotting (1996) being the most famous of these. Boyle’s style, particularly in his early films with their high regard for realism. His films draw upon the environment and British culture of the time, as well as being centred around groups of young people. For example, in Trainspotting, they use the same drugs and are in the same situation and then in Shallow Grave, the people all share the same flat.
  • Close ups are fundamental to Boyle’s vision in his films, they are able to make it possible for the audience to feel isolated and show how the characters are feeling at this time.
  • His films contain a great use of coverage on the sets, most of which are basic and bold in colour, something which could signify the simplicity of the lives of the characters. By making the sets basic, it can help make the light seem more dynamic within the mise-en-scene, this is most relevant to the voyeuristic state that David in Shallow Grave falls into from his position in the attic.
  • Boyle’s films have a tendency to attract the same actors more than once, this is an important aspect of his work, by using some of the same actors, his films gain attention before they have even been made or released. For example, Ewan McGregor has starred in both Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. Boyle wanted him to star in The Beach, however the studios selected Leonardo DiCaprio instead after his rise to fame in Titanic.
  • The lead character, Richard in The Beach instills a narration on the audience throughout the film. This is reminiscent of Renton from Trainspotting, in his ‘Choose Life’ speech at the beginning of the film, along with the rest of his narrative dialogue. Narration from a lead character has become a common aspect of Boyle’s films, perhaps due to the fact that some of his films are based upon or are adaptations of contemporary novels.


This is England (Shane Meadows,2006)

Shane Meadows is a British filmmaker, best known for his film, This is England, (2006) which is a British social realism film.


  • Shane Meadows’ background has heavily inspired his style of film. He grew up in Nottingham in an ordinary working class background. His first major short, Where’s the Money Ronnie? was an inventive crime film, then his first feature Smalltime followed working-class characters involved in petty criminal activities. This is England also explores a group of people growing up in an area of crime and poverty, which shows that crime is a key theme in Meadows’ work.
  • Meadows could also be considered an auteur due to his theme of relationships within his films. The poster for This Is England features a main protagonist alongside a group of friends while A Room For Romeo Brass similarly pictures two boys together. This suggests that Meadow’s films explore the lives of a group of people as a collective, rather than the story of an individual. 
  • Meadows likes to work with a familiar cast throughout his films. One pair of actors who appear in multiple films are Thomas Turgoose and Stephen Graham. Many of his films often feature child actors in the ‘wrong crowd’. For example, Shaun in This Is England becomes involved with a gang of boys much older than he is, and much more violent.
  • The majority of Meadows’ films are autobiographical and based upon his life growing up in Nottingham. He produces films of social realism which portray the domestic life of working class Britons. Typically, these films are set in poorer industrial areas of England, with heavy slang and accents used throughout.


  • The genre of this film is British social realism. This is England is typical of this genre as it features naturalistic setting, unknown actors and handheld camera movements.
  • The first wave of skinheads came to prominence in England during the 1960s which and is displayed through many characters within the film.



Spectatorship in Film

Spectatorship is the act of watching and engaging in a film, concerned with the relationship between the viewer and the film.

Passive and active spectatorship 

  • The Hypodermic Syringe Model – imagines the film audience as passive, homogeneous mass. In this model, the messages and meaning of the film are injected into the minds of the members of the audience where they are accepted uncritically. More of a passive approach.
  • The uses and Gratifications Model – sees the audience as a heterogeneous group of different individuals who will react to the film differently and interpret the filming their own way. It suggests also that the audience will actively use films for a range of purposes including self identification and gaining information. More of an active approach.

Preferred, negotiated, oppositional and aberrant readings

  • Preferred – The reading that the audience is supposed to make.
  • Negotiated – Most audiences are likely to make an interpretation of the film which mixes acceptance and rejection of the different messages it contains. This means the audience becomes actively engaged in taking their own meaning from the film rather than passively accepting a preferred reading.
  • Oppositional – Hall suggests the audience will take their own meanings from films according to factors including their ow pre-existing views on an issue and demographic factors such as age, gender, social class, etc.
  • Audience positioning – Film language can encourage us to identify with characters on screen. Films may constantly shift the audience’s position, requiring us to actively identify with a range of characters at different times.

The Effects Debate

  • Direct Effect Theories – The media having a direct effect upon the ideas and attitudes of the audience – includes the Hypodermic Syringe Theory.
  • Cultivation Theory – Considers the way the media effects attitudes rather tha behaviours. Repeated exposure to certain ideas and values may make the audience less critical of the ideas presented as they appear ‘normal’, known as desensitisation.
  • Diffusion Theories – Focuses on the influence media may have but concentrates on the personalised way audiences access texts and consider the influence other people may have.
  • Indirect Effect Theories – Acknowledge that the media may affects people but focuses on the fact that people respond differently to media texts and images and the environment we are in may be part of that too.
  • Pluralism – Sees media institutions as free to present whatever point of view they wish and audiences being equally free to choose from the ideas and representations available. This view sees the audience as individuals who are I a relationship with the media texts they access. This theory is based on unrealistic assumptions for example that all members of a society share a number of values which are simply reflected by the media.