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Review: The angst-ridden doom and bloom of young Morrissey in ‘England Is Mine’

Jessica Brown Findlay and Jack Lowden in the film "England Is Mine."
Jessica Brown Findlay and Jack Lowden in the film “England Is Mine.”
(Cleopatra Entertainment)

Morrissey, lead singer of the Smiths, beloved cultural icon, the Pope of Mope, is a character built for a biopic, with his James Dean-inspired pompadour and earnestly morose lyrics born out of working-class ennui and teenage depression. Mark Gill’s debut feature, “England Is Mine,” tackles the early life of Moz, but unsatisfyingly stops just short of the Smiths, telling a rather disjointed origin story.

Written by Gill and William Thacker, it imagines how a melancholy young man from Manchester fought his inner demons to become the icon we know. Much of the plot is concerned with the ways in which young Steven Morrissey (Jack Lowden, dowdied up in a dye job and specs) gets in his own way.

The title, taken from a Smiths lyric, “England is mine, it owes me a living,” reflects the grandiosity of the words Steven puts to the page — though he can’t transfer that fire into the way he carries himself. His social anxiety is crippling, and he can’t hold down a day job. He pens scathing reviews of local rock shows, but struggles to bring himself to create his own art.

“England Is Mine” is about that push-pull dichotomy between comfort and risk; about overcoming that fear to just do something. “The world isn’t just going to come to ya,” one of Steven’s friends berates him. That leap-of-faith moment is a part of almost every artist’s tale, but in “England Is Mine,” it’s the whole film, and it eventually grows wearisome. There’s room yet for the great Morrissey biopic to be made.

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‘England Is Mine’

No rating

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

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Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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