England Is Mine ★★

A handsome little biopic that’s sopping wet with the same clichés that its whiny hero so adamantly disavows, Mark Gill’s “England Is Mine” distills the early days of one Steven Patrick Morrissey into an anonymous coming-of-age story that — if not for its keen sense of place — could really be about any mopey white boy whose talents are dulled by torpor. The film begins in the late ’70s, when young Steven is still living in his family’s splintered Stretford council house and writing flippant concert reviews for some local music rags; it ends a few years later, before he and Johnny Marr have yet to record their first track as The Smiths. This isn’t a portrait of an iconoclastic rock god, but of a brooding artist who thinks he’s far too good for such a boring town, and resents the fact that he should ever have to actually prove his genius to the rest of the world. Some people never change.

Of course, common wisdom suggests that nobody would ever want to see a movie about a holier-than-thou little shit, so Gill and co-writer William Thacker reduce their subject’s formative teenage years into the stuff of an unusually sullen Hallmark card about following your dreams. “The world is not meant for people like me,” wee Moz tells his mum. “Then create your own world,” she replies. Think different. How easy for someone who never knew how to think any other way. Films about famous visionaries almost always make the mistake of looking back at history through the safety goggles of hindsight, like they’re starting at the center of a maze and tracing their way back to the entrance. Gill tells us over and over again that life doesn’t owe Steven a living (or anything else), but he fails to recognize that it’s already given the kid so much.

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