IF YOU’RE seeking glowing praise for an artistic endeavour, Morrissey is unlikely to be in your top 10 list of cheerleaders.
But that did not stop ambitious filmmaker Mark Gill from centring his first ever feature-length movie on the Smiths frontman’s early life.
In fact, he dares hope that the Mancunian music legend might even enjoy the biopic.
Morrissey certainly will not be able to criticise a lack of dedication, after the musician and lifelong fan sold all his guitars to pay his way through film school, just to make it.
Now, after two years, a few million dollars, some dreadful auditions , hours of legal discussion and painstaking research, Gill’s England Is Mine is about to be released.
Named after the Smiths’ ‘Still Ill’ lyric “England is mine and it owes me a living”, Gill delves into the elusive singer’s younger years as the awkward and misunderstood Steven Patrick Morrissey, battling to make his mark against the workaday world of 1970s Stretford.
“I was interested in who wrote those first albums and realised it was Steven,” says Gill. “Once I started looking into him, I thought, ‘That’s a story I can tell’.
“I knew I could do a young man struggling to find his way in the world, because I’ve been there.
“It’s that artistic struggle to do something with your life, and how it’s always a fight to do anything you think is worthwhile.
“Sometimes you are born into a world you don’t feel you belong in, and you feel like you are drowning.
“As with any drowning person, you tend to grab hold of things — for Steven it was books, music and the strong women in his life.”
Gill, 46, was raised half a mile away from where Steven, now 58, lived with his Irish family.
Morrissey did not reply to Gill’s many messages. “If the film is a disaster, he can say, ‘Of course it was, because I wasn’t involved’, and if it’s well-received, he can say, ‘Of course it’s good, because it’s about me’.”
We meet teenage Steven as he begins to discover his talent for music and his passion for the written word, and follow him through family domestics and his stints working for the Inland Revenue and in a hospital.
We feel his pain and disappointment when his first band with Billy Duffy (now The Cult guitarist) crumbles and his inspirational ‘will they, won’t they’ friend, Linder Sterling, abandons him for London. And we leave him just as he finds a kindred spirit in Johnny Marr, kicking off the relationship that would become the definitive rock band of the 1980s.
It is not always an easy watch and neither Gill, nor lead star Jack Lowden waste time making the audience feel at ease with the prickly protagonist. “You have to be honest and we all have characteristics that are not likeable,” admits Gill.
“I wanted him to be a human being and that includes being arrogant, sometimes spiky with people, but also insecure, shy and vulnerable. You look at him and see a real person.”
Gill hopes that fans and first-timers alike will be affected by the one-of-a-kind character.
While giving nods to the influence of Oasis into the 1990s and Radiohead into the Noughties, in his words: “I can’t think of anyone else who has created that sort of cult around them like Morrissey has.
“People have tried but it has been embarrassing. He is a one-off and we’ll miss him when he’s gone.”
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