Well, we've had a sneak peek at the first episode of this new three-part series and can confirm it's classic This Is England - funny, emotional, smart, touching. Brilliant stuff, in other words.
After a screening at BAFTA, director Shane Meadows and star Vicky McClure - known to This Is England fans as Lol - chatted about the show, so read on to find out what they had to say!
Why did you decide to make a new series of This Is England set in 1988?
Shane: "The big difference with This Is England is I've never revisited anything else. I wouldn't want to for mental health reasons on Dead Man's Shoes! But there's something about the cinematic format which doesn't suit everything, and although This Is England worked in its own right as a film, the only thing it didn't have time to accommodate was all the other people and the depth and breadth of their stories.
"The reason there was such depth to the other characters is because This Is England is the closest thing to a film about my own life and the people that I grew up with, and so there was always a slight taste in my mouth that I'd not been able to [expand it]. With all the work that everyone put in with their characters, sometimes for only a tiny amount of screen time, it gave the film a validity but it didn't really get across the love I still feel for those people.
"So it's not like I'm going to do start doing Kung Fu Panda 2 on everything! And this is a funny one with '88 because I always only ever imagined I'd do '86 and then '90. I was talking to Jack and Channel 4 about 1990 and what I realised about '90 was the first episode at least was going to have to take into account what had gone on in '86.
"I want '90 to start with an ecstasy pill being put on a tongue. The last thing you saw [in '86] was someone being murdered, and you can start off like that if you want to, but I just couldn't set off on that foot. So I said there's room for something that enables us to move forward in the next series, but if we set it in a different season could be something quite different in its own right.
"And that's why the spiritual angle, different tones [appear]. When you see the whole thing, it is a very brutal nativity play in a way, and the beautiful, beautiful thing about doing '88, which was meant to be a stop gap, is it isn't tied into an event, it isn't tied into a moment of history, it's just those people living and that could be yesterday or it could be 1905.
"This is the only one that I could get made that's just about the people. '83 was specifically about that summer when I became a skinhead, '86 was about living a summer through a World Cup, and '90's going to be about the Stone Roses, the crossover of rave culture and all that, and a lot of it's people getting into drugs. Whereas '88 seems to be about something and about nothing and I actually enjoyed it all the more for the fact that it isn't tied into an archive."
Vicky, Lol is loved but she's also going through a tough time.
Vicky: "Yeah, she's not an easy part to play. It's like a pleasure-pain thing. Everyone will agree you go home and you feel like [you have a headache]. As much as it's so much fun on set, you really work hard and we do a lot of improv so there's a lot asked of the cast. I'd do it for the rest of my life if I could, I really would, and I know everyone would agree. But yeah, it's hard!"
Are you reading the script going, 'Is she going to be alright?'
Vicky: "You never know how it's going to go. I remember Shane speaking to me about it before we actually got the script, and I got a rough idea where the script was going to go. But you just never know. You could get on set and it could completely change, so you've got to be open minded."
How did you feel going into '88?
Vicky: "'86 was one thing because we're regimented slightly for television anyway but there was definitely a journey and I knew what we were doing. I think the pressure was bigger for me on '88 because there's so many elements to Lol that I've never experienced and I think the only way that I could try to portray that is to live and breathe it. The cast will tell you I hardly saw them. I pretty much slept in my flat and I couldn't really go out. It was really intense but it gets the performance."
Shane: "It's not pretty sometimes. It goes way beyond, 'Hey, let's all meet for four weeks and go out and have food together'. When you're shooting something like that, if you're doing your job properly you don't want to eat that night. So we do have fun and we have the craic and stuff like that but I've learnt to lay down certain stipulations now. It's really important for people."
What kind of rules?
Shane: "I kept Vicky locked away from everybody, I kept Joe [Gilgun] locked away from everybody, because those two characters' journeys were that they were living on the outside of the gang that they both created. And on the one night where they bumped into each other in a restaurant, Vicky came - obviously because she's really honest - and told me, 'I made a mistake last night, I saw Joe Gilgun. I know I'm not allowed to see him until the final scene but I had a bit of a chat with him'. And I said, 'Pack your bags'. I sent her to a dirty s**thole hotel."
Vicky: "I thought I'd done nothing wrong. I was convinced. Turns out he was like, 'I don't care, pack your bags'."
Shane: "The rest of the cast, they break the rules every ten minutes. Vicky is teacher's pet!"
Do you try to include politics in This Is England?
Shane: "When I was living through that time as a skinhead I was angry at Margaret Thatcher because I was kind of told that was what you did. But the reality of it really was just hand to mouth. It wasn't really this political thing's happening over here, at the time it was very much a hand to mouth existence.
"So I don't really pass on the politics of the time to the actors, I kind of work on the drama. If you actually wanted to sit and strip it back, you could definitely work out which pieces are due to the fact you've been dealt a s**t hand by the government and which is down to your own personality and stuff. But I've always refrained from getting into that because I almost think it's a complexity too far. If the drama's realistic and believable, the blanks are filled in."
Christmas has a history of ghost stories and that kind of thing - was that something you thought about when you were writing this?
Shane: "From my point of view it's not something I could pull off in the summer, I don't think, so there's probably a lot of truth in that. My memories of watching Scrooge and It's A Wonderful Life, certain things that seem to be able to stick to the winter, they just won't stick to any other season and Christmas in particular.
"I just remember Christmas being s**t! I remember breaking into a cupboard to look at my presents about six weeks before Christmas. I ruined it for myself and I got so depressed I drank a bottle of advocaat and honked everywhere. I just didn't enjoy it, it was so much pressure. And my birthday was whacked on to it on Boxing Day - no-one could come to my birthday parties because the buses weren't running, and I hated it. So this is my present to you lot!
"In truth, yeah there is this tradition and I think there's something about it. I did say quite openly to [Channel 4 exec] Camilla, 'I want to make a broken nativity play in a way'. Believe me, there's some real positivity and some real hope that comes up the side of it, it does change and I think the journey that it goes on, it's classic This Is England, but there's a really positive outcome, I hope."
How do you shift between the comedy and the drama?
Shane: "Obviously there's certain elements that are in the script and the way I've kind of written the scripts has almost become a style, I think. Something that's integral to my work. [Someone was saying] it shouldn't almost be possible to be telling jokes and then smack someone with a pitchfork and then tell a lot of jokes again. It was almost being insinuated I did it as a technique. It's not a technique, it's just the rhythm of my life was like that.
"My life has had these things where you're having the best time of your life, then a moment of violence erupts or something happens. It left such an impression, I think I just can't get away from that rhythm. As much as I try to get away from it, I can't. I couldn't literally make something at a certain pace and style without that fluctuation.
"That's just life, you know. Not everyone's going to have that life, but I think certain moments at certain important times in my life very f**king odd things happen that were outside of normal experience. It affected me in a great way because I make films slightly differently, but it's not a technique, it's not something I think, 'I'm going to do this really funny bit then whack people'. It's something I believe happens."
Do you know what's coming up in '90?
Shane: "Combo's coming out of prison and comes back to the community to try to make amends for the things he did in his earlier life. I think Woody, Milky and the older members of the gang as they start to get separated off here do kind of break away from that young energetic thing and the younger kids come into their own. They latched on to the skinhead thing but they weren't true skinheads, whereas this time I'm going to force them all to listen to the Stone Roses. 'Fool's Gold' is going to be whacking out of the speakers every lunchtime."
How far are you planning to take This Is England? Could it go further than '90?
Shane: "There's something different about this, so it's one of those things where if you enjoy it and the quality of the work's good and the stories keep coming then I would never say that I wouldn't do it. I'm not going to not do it because people don't think it's cool to do it but at the same time I don't want to do what Only Fools And Horses did, that thing where they hit the f**king jackpot and then come back and let everyone down afterwards a couple of times. I pray I don't do that. But how long it goes on for? I suppose it's maybe inevitable that you have to go one step too far before you can stop."
And you'll have to wait for the cast to grow up.
Shane: "Yeah, at the moment because of '90 and all that it's going to be a year or two before we get back into it. The film was specifically about my life and now Thommo's actual genuine life story has been moulded into mine, he's gone from being a little scallywag thrown out of school, it's like he's now a miniature version of me. It's a really weird thing - it's not just a job, this one, and if it means to be able to stay with those people you've become friends with and make something every few years for four or five weeks, I'd love to, but I won't do it for the sake of it. '90 is a banker, really - I've got the stories absolutely lined up waiting to go, but beyond that I can't see anything. So the truth is I don't see anything beyond it but I don't want to lay it all down and say I'm not going to do it and then come back."
This Is England '88 begins on Tuesday at 10pm on Channel 4.