HOLLYWOOD COMES TO HENDON
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?
Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz filming in north London last week
Close up in Golders Green