Edinburgh International Film Festival review: England is Mine

FILM critic Alistair Harkness reviews the world premiere of debut director Mark Gill's unauthorised biopic of Morrissey at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Jack Lowden as Morrissey and Laurie Kynaston as Johnny Marr in the film England is Mine based on the early life of the former lead singer of The Smiths. Picture: PA

England is Mine | Edinburgh International Film Festival | Director: Mark Gill | Star rating: ***

Receiving its world premiere as the closing night gala of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, debut director Mark Gill’s unauthorised biopic of Morrissey belongs to a subgenre of movies that focus on artists in their formative years to get round the fact that they’re unable to license the work for which their subjects are famous.

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This can be creatively liberating or stifling: England is Mine falls somewhere between the two. Building up to the moment Morrissey and Johnny Marr form The Smiths, it’s an origins story that stops just as things appear to be getting interesting. And yet, in zeroing in on a six-year period in Morrissey’s life in which nothing much happens, it explores how the very drabness of his existence in Manchester fuels the interior life of one of British pop’s most iconoclastic figures.

Rising Scottish star Jack Lowden is good here at walking a sympathetic line between Morrissey’s passive, self-pitying narcissism and his sincere ambition to do something of worth.

Lowden doesn’t look much like Morrissey until the end, but that’s part of the conceit. For much of England is Mine he’s Steven Patrick Morrissey: an introverted tax office worker who’s privately convinced of his own artistic genius, but too scared to express himself publicly. The film is really about the mental graft it takes to make that leap.

It might not feature any actual Morrissey music, but it leaves you in little doubt that this is the man who will go on to write Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.