This Is England's Gang Rape Scene: What Did It Mean And Why Was It There?
The Debrief: This Is England could have taken Kelly’s storyline much further, but maybe it was only ever there to help drive the men’s storylines…
Have you seen the entirety of This Is England ’90? If not, beware of the spoilers below.
But if you’re not sure about finishing the last series of the show, maybe read below to assess if you really want to see how a woman’s gang-rape and subsequent heroin addiction was all solved and tied up in a neat little bow apropos of nothing but her sister’s wedding.
Let’s run through how it all happens. At the beginning of the series, Kelly, Lol’s little sister is still reeling from their father’s murder (up until this series, she thought it was Combo who’d killed him, not Lol in retaliation for sexually abuse of her and raping her best friend Trev). So she’s dating guys who look a bit like her dad, staying over just for one night then fucking off without leaving a number. Then enter the drugs. Starting with speed, by the second episode she’s high on pills at a pagan rave and has been led off to a cabin by some blokes who then give her heroin. Helpfully holding her hair back as she pukes, they then take turns to have a go on her, passing her about while she looks about to pass out. We get a look into her mind: flashbacks of her father, wobbly vision and haunting noises, she’s upset. She doesn’t want to be there but she’s too numb to escape. And besides, she later blames herself, for being a ‘slag’ anyway.
She does this the next morning sitting in a field next to Gadget, her adoring mate, who then snuggles up to her and kisses her face all over. The scene is uncomfortable; a stark reminder of the fact that when boys and girls go out on a big one, a night of wild abandon, the implications are so much worse for women than men. But also the kisses all over Kelly’s face, just when she’s had more than enough people seeing her as a primarily sexual entity, teeter on creepy. Are we meant to be sad for Kelly because she’s been gang-raped? Or are we sad for Gadget because he’s been friendzoned?
There was hope that this storyline would be cleared up, but any self-discovery Kelly makes is hidden while we have screen time dedicated to a new character, a girl pretty enough to be a 1960’s Tupperware catalogue model pursuing Shaun like he’s a leftover dinner ready to be captured.
We know that Chanel Cresswell, who plays Kelly is very capable of acting a scene and deserving of screen time; by the third, tumultuous episode, Kelly refuses to believe the confession that Lol killed her dad. She refuses to believe he hurt Lol and Trev, yelling ‘what was so special about you?’ Running away, she descends into heroin addiction, smoking secretly at Gadget’s place which he rents from flatmate and sometime drug-dealer Harvey.
Later, upon his discovery of her heroin habit, Harvey kicks Kelly out, and he tells a furious Gadget she’d never shag him anyway. Kelly now seems more like a pawn between the pair, an implement to improve Gadget's self-esteem than an actual person at this point. After some fuss from Gadget, Kelly tells him to fuck off then goes to live with some random drug user. You’d suspect things got worse from there.
But no. With no support network provided by family or friends, with zero self-esteem, living in a house full of people using heroin – injecting this time – Kelly miraculously comes to her senses. She goes to her sister and Woody’s wedding reception and makes up with Lol, promising that she’s ditched the drugs for weeks now. Tearfully, she adds that she now remembers her dad being creepy. For all the emotion that the actresses can carry, the storyline was too daintly tied up to do the character justice. Did Kelly really get clean after staying with a bunch of users? What was the pin-drop moment that made her quit drugs? Her sister’s wedding? Or a sudden change of heart? Perhaps something worse happened to her – off screen - that jolted her to change?
While it was fascinating and important to see the main storyline: Combo’s fate sealed by a quaveringly guilty Milky, finally getting revenge of sorts for the actions seen in the film that kicked off the series, the sudden tying up of Kelly’s strings was hard to believe.
Game of Thrones and 12 Years A Slave have both been criticised for containing rape scenes that pan to an innocent male onlooker’s eyes. Both seem to say that a rape can happen to a woman, but it’s only truly devastating when it’s being seen by a man powerless to stop it. A man who’s got some sort of ownership over the woman – his friend, the girl he fancies, his sort-of sister. But while Kelly’s gang-rape was undoubtedly seen through her eyes, the aftermath of her at her worse was kept pretty much out of sight, making way for the repetitive bickering banter between Harvey and Gadget and Woody and his parents.
If Shane Meadows, who wrote the series, wanted Kelly’s story to be so simple, why did she get raped in the first place? It's worth remembering that for all This Is England's grittiness, this is a story that people are writing and have full control over, it’s not real life and clearly, judging by Shaun’s girlfriend, doesn’t have to look like it.
Was the gang rape scene to show how drugs can lead you into bad situations? To imply that it was an inevitable side-effect of getting wasted? Or for us to kind of enjoy watching a tragic female character thrown to rock bottom, repeatedly? Maybe we were meant to go deeper and criticise Kelly for refusing to believe in other victims, or perhaps we were meant to recognise that she was in such huge denial of her own rapes that she just refused to acknowledge when a rape is rape?
We’ll just have to guess at the answers to all of those, because, by being cut off so neatly, as if Kelly could forget all her pain and history upon turning up to a wedding, the storyline simply seems exploitative. Maybe the rape scene was only there because it made for good TV.
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