Morrissey is, at present, very active, having announced a new album (Low In High School, Nov. 17) and tour dates starting Oct. 31 in the U.S. And that’s likely good news for England Is Mine, the new film about the singer’s past — specifically his youth leading up to formation of The Smiths in 1982.
“We’ve had no reaction from him at all,” director and co-writer Mark Gill tells Billboard. “That’s not totally surprising, really, ’cause he’s the kind of guy who waits and sees what the general consensus has been from the audience. And what he’ll have heard is the audience have responded brilliantly. Every room I’ve been in there’s been an overwhelming response and a genuine love out there for it. I think we share the same audience, and I think he knows his audience likes our film. But then again, it is Morrissey; He could just decide he hates it.”
Gill’s film, which has opened in select markets on both sides of the Atlantic and is also available via digital on-demand, has gotten thumbs-up from some important quarters. Early Morrissey running buddy and Cult guitarist Billy Duffy, who was a source for Gill and William Thacker’s script and is portrayed by Adam Lawrence in the film, voiced his approval. And Gill met Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr in Manchester the day England Is Mine’s trailer came out; “He’d seen it,” Gill recalls. “He was warm and generous and honored that he was in the film and wished us all the luck in the world.” Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, meanwhile, saw a New York screening of the movie but has not reacted.
While notoriety for Steven Patrick Morrissey (played by Jack Lowden) came after the events depicted in England Is Mine, Gill is still happy with his choice to focus on the singer’s formative years, including early musical adventures that displayed a love of glam rock and girl groups such as the Shangri-La’s, who the young Morrissey is seen covering (“Give Him a Great Big Kiss”) in the below scene from the film.
“To me it’s the only interesting part of the story,” Gill explains. “There was never any great desire to make a film about the Smiths or Smiths music. That never interested me.” The mission to tell Morrissey’s origin story, if you will, was personal for Gill. “I grew up on the same street in Manchester,” the director says. “I lived half a mile from him or so. I discovered his music as a teenager, towards the tail end of the Smiths, and was surprised you could have pop stars — a hugely influential singer from the same street as I grew up — in Manchester. I was intrigued about how he survived it. It’s not a ghetto by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’re into a slightly different thing you do tend to stand out in that part of the world. There was quite a bit of digging to do to get to it.”
England Is Mine star Lowden (Dunkirk, The Tunnel, War & Peace), meanwhile, had a more academic relationship to Morrissey and his music. “I didn’t grow up in Manchester, and I think that really helped me,” Lowden says. “I didn’t feel as much pressure, I think, as someone who’s a diehard fan of the Smiths and had grown up with them might. To me the film is a portrait — not a cradle-to-grave biopic, but a really unique way of taking on an icon, which is why it’s such a beautiful film.”
Gill’s mission now is making sure more people get to see it. While the digital on demand has make England Is Mine more accessible the director is also continuing to work the festival circuit as well as expanding into more theaters. “It’s been sold pretty much everywhere now, and I’m always looking forward to seeing how it reacts,” Gill says. “One of the heartwarming things about coming to the States is seeing the film really connect with audiences there, especially since there’s a very British type of humor in it. I just think it takes people on a journey through (Morrissey’s) evolution. It’s my first (full-length feature) film, and I’m just delighted it’s getting out there.”