If I Could Turn Back Time: Jennifer in This Is England ’88

As a nostalgic, I often tend to give the past the totally positive quality that it never really had. In some cases, things I hated (music or clothes or even films) have slowly become acceptable, if not even regretted; in other cases, one must face the facts and realize that some things were ugly in the past and nothing/no one can change that. This is quite true when it comes to my personal style: though always attracted by anything related to the world of fashion, I’ve never been told I dress nicely, and when I was a teenager things were even worse. I wanted to be fashionable/cool in my own way (like anybody else) but results were far from being attractive: this is the reason why I jumped on my seat when I first saw the character of Jennifer in This Is England ’88. She is Woody’s girlfriend: totally different from Lol, she represents stability, conformism and social approval, but – alas – she’s not fashionable, let alone cool. Her outfits totally remind me the way I used to dress in the mid 80s and I love her for that.

Jennifer (played by Stacey Sampson, an actress who has worked in several tv shows and in theatre) is a cute girl – dark blonde and long hair with bangs, fair complexion and blue eyes – but she seems to come from another galaxy, if compared to the other female characters. She gets along well with Woody’s parents, who are very proud of her and treat her like a daughter. As I’ve already written, Jennifer represents a stable and socially acceptable future for Woody: he still rocks tattoos on his arms, but he has changed a lot and seems interested in pursuing a career and middle-class dreams.

When we first see her, Jennifer is sporting her trademark outfit, which includes mid-length skirt, shirt and embroidered cardigan/sweater. She’s a younger version of Woody’s mother: her clothes – in pastel or powdery colours – have romantic decorations; she’s always bare-faced and wears no jewellery. She embodies the image of the “good girl”, in opposition to Woody’s former girlfriend, who had a child with his best friend.

The mini-series is set during the days just before Christmas: Jennifer spends most of her time with Woody’s parents. In the screencap above, she sports an outfit which is pretty similar to the first one: pale pink pencil skirt, beige cardigan and mid-calf boots.

In another scene, set in Woody’s parent’s living room, she’s wearing a pleated pale blue skirt [1], a pastel yellow shirt and a beige cardigan.

The cardi is lovely: it has embroidered pink wisteria branches in the front panels. In this case, she’s also wearing gold hoop earrings.

In the screencap above, set in the bathroom, we can see her pale yellow shirt – the short sleeve cuffs are kept in place by tiny buttons. There’s intimacy between Jennifer and Woody, but no chemistry whatsoever. He’s not in love with her, but clings to the illusion of being able to leave his painful past behind.

One of the saddest scenes of the whole series is set in a restaurant, where Woody, Jennifer, his boss and girlfriend spend their Christmas Eve. The audience knows what is happening to Lol, who’s going through a deep personal crisis which will eventually lead her to suicide, so the contrast between the girl and his ex is incredibly strinking. Despite knowing she’s not Woody’s soul mate, Jennifer enjoys his company and the dinner.

Oh my! This outfit is so Jennifer, a bit of nightmare from the 80s: she is wearing a patterned satin ensemble in a shade of beige pink, consisting in a pencil skirt and jacket with padded shoulders, long sleeves and peplum. Yes, the peplum is quite trendy right now, but at the time it was huge (just think of some outfits seen on Joan Collins in Dynasty or on Lady Diana): even a middle-class girl like Jennifer wears a peplum jacket with the intention of looking glamourous.

When they leave the restaurant, they run into Woody’s ex-friends, Milky included. This scene ends with a fight, where both characters express their anger and disappointment; it’s a tense scene, but we realize that they still love each other. Here, the contrast between Jennifer and the other girls (Kelly and Trev) is more striking than ever: she’s wearing a classic trench coat over her satin skirt suit, silver pumps and a white bag. At first, she’s afraid of the gang, but later we can see real despair in her eyes, when she probably realizes Woody’s past is still haunting him.

On Christmas Day, Woody and Jennifer meet in the bathroom and discuss about what happened the night before. In this case, she’s wearing a pale green slip with lace inserts on the bodice. It’s made of a synthetic fibre resembling satin, another “I’d-like-to-be-glamourous-but-I-can’t-afford-it” detail.

The last outfit she sports is probably the most tragic one, and the same can be said for Woody’s and his parents’. I’m sure Woody’s mother is responsible for such a fashion crime – Christmas-inspired sweaters and vest. It’s an overdose of Christmas trees, stars, Christmas tree decorations and – this is the case of Jennifer’s white sweater – boxes of presents. She’s sporting a half-updo and has her hoop earrings on.

She matches her blue pleated skirt to a sweater decorated with a gold-trimmed blue ribbon and a red tag, resembling the decorations on a present; in addition to that, her sleeves have embroidered hollies, the ultimate nail on the coffin of a terrible outfit. In this scene, Trev shows up at Woody’s to tell him Lol has committed suicide. He is devastated, so he rushes to the hospital; his parents and Jennifer are speechless, but I guess she knows from his reaction that she’s lost him forever.

I think Jennifer has been largely underestimated in this tv show, but the same can be said for other characters. I don’t think she will appear in a possible third mini-series by Shane Meadows, but I’d like to see her back, and maybe learn something more about her. I like her because she’s good-hearted and loves her man; she knows she’s not cool but she does her best to appear nice (from a middle-class point of view). Stacey Sampson did an excellent job because she was able to give complexity to an apparently hideous character. Do you agree?

After writing about Lol and Kelly, Trev and Smell, Titch and Faye, this post about Jennifer’s style is the last one devoted to This Is England ’88. No news of a possible This Is England ’90 have surfaced, but I hope Meadows is working on it: watching the characters we’ve known so far in a 90s context would be awesome.

7 comments

  1. I totally forgot about this TV show! After the fantastic movie I’ve just watched a couple of episodes of the series and then stopped. For no reason at all since I liked it a lot. I’m already a huge fan of Jennifer. Thanks for the beautiful post Superqueen and also for reminding me I have to catch up with the series! Btw, her Christmas sweater is the best I’ve ever seen!

    1. Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Jennifer is the perfect example of a possibly hideous character who is actually not as bad as expected. I love her because she’s so out of place if compared to Woody’s past and the gang of his friends. Her style totally reminds myself in the 80s, another reason to love her!

  2. The fashion crime I resent more about the 80s is the oversize sweater/jacket thing – It took me ages to realize fitted clothes suit me better!
    I finally enjoyed your This Is England posts – thank you – after catching up with this amazing series. I loved the multifaceted characters, and how the humanity shines through the bleak and sometimes caricatural aspects.
    You’ll be glad to hear This Is England 90 is on its way!

  3. My PC played up. I posted a comment on how good this piece was and just to say there is a cycle ride to see locations of This is England 86 and 88 on 21 Sep 2012 see ww.sfnr.org.uk

    Stacey Sampson who played Jennifer is coming to have a post-ride drink with us and chat about ythe series as well as anything else.

  4. I liked that although they showed Jennifer as being wrong for Woody they still made her sympathetic and there was a bond between them as a couple even if it wasn’t to last.

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