HOL­LY­WOOD COMES TO HEN­DON

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - MICHELLE ST MOR­RIS

WE’VE BEEN in­vaded. Crowds of peo­ple gather out­side Kosher King­dom, on Gold­ers Green Road. Af­ter I pull into an empty spot, my con­fu­sion turns into an­noy­ance when I hear a tap on my win­dow.

“You can’t park here be­cause the bay’s suspended” “Why?” “Be­cause we’re film­ing” “There weren’t any cones out.” “They were moved, this bay is suspended.” No apolo­gies for the in­con­ve­nience. They’re film­ing, af­ter all. I, how­ever, don’t give a fly­ing rugelach. When I fi­nally walk past the “set”, my pres­ence is met with dis­dain from the crew hud­dled around, clutch­ing their take­away cof­fees.

For those Lud­dites who aren’t on so­cial me­dia, they were film­ing

Dis­obe­di­ence, a big-bud­get movie based on Naomi Al­der­man’s book writ­ten about a “for­bid­den” love tri­an­gle in Or­tho­dox Hen­don. Although sev­eral friends of mine have read the book, I haven’t yet, so I can’t com­ment on the sto­ry­line. The only thing I care about is how my Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity is be­ing depicted and treated dur­ing the film­ing process.

It’s very thrilling when you’re on the Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios stu­dio tour and you chance upon live film­ing (I caught Des­per­ate House­wives). Yet on a win­ter’s Thurs­day af­ter­noon when you’re try­ing to shop for a guest-laden Shab­bat, it’s just a nui­sance.

I saw Rachel McA­dams. My re­ac­tion was com­pletely un­like that of my 14-year-old sis­ter who won’t stop squeal­ing about spot­ting McA­dams at Has­monean High School for Girls. As I ex­plained to her, you are sta­tis­ti­cally more likely to see a celebrity than a stranger. If you sit an aisle away from a stranger on a plane, and then walk past them in Brent Cross three weeks later, you would not recog­nise them. If it was Bey­oncé, then, wow, you’ve just seen her twice in one month!

Back to McA­dams. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen and en­joyed many of her films. I ad­mire the va­ri­ety and the depth of the char­ac­ters she’s por­trayed, par­tic­u­larly as an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist in Spotlight. But today, she’s wear­ing the frump­i­est clothes and the sad­dest brown wig I’ve ever seen. One of the most beau­ti­ful women in the world looks ter­ri­ble.

While re­search­ing the film, McA­dams went to the home of Louise Leach — the Or­tho­dox founder of pop­u­lar dance school, Danc­ing With Louise — for dinner a few weeks ago. I saw the pic­tures on Face­book. McA­dams wore a flo­ral wrap dress over a black-col­lared shirt with her hair tied back in a neat chignon. She knew how to dress mod­estly and stylish enough to fit in at that meal. She must have seen authen­tic Ju­daism there and at Has­monean; yet some­how for the movie, the cos­tumes of her char­ac­ter and ex­tras are be­ing taken to the ex­treme. Couldn’t the cos­tume de­sign­ers have car­ried out sim­i­lar re­search?

I may know one or two peo­ple who dress like McA­dams’ char­ac­ter on a bad day, or on their way to the mikveh. How­ever, most rab­bis’ wives and daugh­ters take pride in their ap­pear­ance, wear make-up, and choose ac­ces­sories that they be­lieve are beau­ti­ful. Dress­ing mod­estly is not about cov­er­ing up to be unattrac­tive, it’s about look­ing re­fined and pre­sentable to the world.The pro­duc­ers of this film failed to see that, choos­ing to present the worst image pos­si­ble.

In char­ac­ter, McA­dams is pulling a shop­ping trol­ley bag. I’ve lived in Hen­don for nearly my en­tire life, and I’ve never seen a per­son un­der the age of 60 us­ing one.

Kosher King­dom, a shop I fre­quent of­ten, is swarm­ing with ex­tras dressed to ex­ag­ger­ate ug­li­ness. It is in­sult­ing that they thought none of us lo­cals would no­tice the dis­crep­ancy, or worse; they thought we wouldn’t care.

This film is tak­ing ad­van­tage of our com­mu­nity and drama­tis­ing neg­a­tiv­ity, for profit. I cringe to think what au­di­ences, Jewish and non-Jewish, Bri­tish and global, will think of peo­ple like me.

The most of­fen­sive part I wit­nessed were fake “for­bid­den signs” in He­brew the movie squad had hung up on shop win­dows. To make a com­mu­nity seem more close­minded than it is, feels like slan­der.

We don’t have those signs up in Gold­ers Green, Hen­don, Finch­ley, or Edg­ware. The only place I’ve ever seen them is in Mea Shearim, the strictly Or­tho­dox neigh­bour­hood in Jerusalem. Surely the fact that they had to put them up, proves that we don’t have them? If they need to try so hard to fab­ri­cate an ap­pear­ance of our com­mu­nity, then it is not a re­flec­tion of real­ity.

That is cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, as they are cherry-pick­ing parts of Ju­daism to drama­tise a story they will claim is set in real­ity.

It’s one thing if the story took place in a fic­ti­tious Jewish com­mu­nity, where per­haps they could take more cre­ative li­cense. To dis­tort the de­pic­tion of an ac­tual com­mu­nity in a neg­a­tive way is just wrong.

Ob­vi­ously I don’t know what the fi­nal prod­uct will look like yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, it does not seem like this in­va­sion is com­ing in peace.

Will we be seen as more close­minded than real­ity?

PHOTO: ISO PHO­TOS

Rachel McA­dams and Rachel Weisz film­ing in north Lon­don last week

Close up in Gold­ers Green

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