A biopic about the early days of Morrissey is a portrait of the artist as a young mope. It’s “authentic,” but where’s the fire?
“England Is Mine” is a biopic about the early days of Morrissey, the lead singer of the Smiths, that features two minutes of Morrissey singing and 97 minutes of Morrissey moping. There are Morrissey fans who would swear that makes it one of the most accurate biopics ever made. Yet even for some of us who are Smiths believers, the movie is a bit much. At certain points in the middle of it, you may think “I’m miserable now,” though not in the way that Morrissey had in mind.
In the ’80s, everyone loved to talk about how Morrissey was the most sensitive and misunderstood guy on the planet. He had quite an image: exquisitely depressed, a swooning (but celibate!) gay vegetarian wallflower, awash in the poetic romance of self-pity. I was shocked when I finally saw him onstage, because he was every inch a rock star — like a statue by Michelangelo who swayed, his dark hair tall but trim at the nape of the neck (a style as shockingly “straight,” in its way, as Bryan Ferry’s was in the early ’70s), with movements that expressed the reverent ecstasy that his lyrics kept telling you life had denied him. But then, that was the beautiful yin-and-yang of Morrissey: He fashioned terminal shyness into a rebel gesture, and made a lot of masochistically alienated too-smart-for-the-room kids feel as if they, too, had a voice.
His own voice was gorgeous, a sweetly plaintive tenor that could reach up and carry you away, to the point that it almost didn’t matter if his melodies all sounded like they were improvised around the same three notes (kind of like “Three Blind Mice” with variations). All that began to coalesce in 1982, when Morrissey, who had just turned 23, teamed up with Johnny Marr (only 19 at the time), who caressed his guitar into producing roiling sunlit waves of sound.