Film review: The Road: A Story of Life and Death (PG)

 

Marc Isaacs' documentary uncovers a fresco of contemporary London life as lived – or endured – by a handful of immigrants.

Starting with Keelta, a sweet-voiced Irish lass who arrives in the city via the boat from Holyhead, the film delves behind the humdrum facades of Kilburn and Cricklewood to find other, older characters who have made the place home. Impossible not to be charmed by Peggy Roth, a 95-year-old widow who escaped Vienna in 1939 (though her beloved mother did not), or by Iqbal Ahmed, a hotel manager missing his wife back in Kashmir.

One also warms to Barbara, a retired German air stewardess now running a cheerful guest-house for foreign students – and her estranged husband. But the undertow of loneliness is persistent and, in the case of Irish ex-labourer Billy, quite tragic. Isaacs interviews the 60-year-old in his bedsit, shaking with the DTs, trying to explain how his life went wrong. When he says, "I haven't bought any new clothes... used to have quality", you can almost hear a heart breaking.

At such moments Isaacs' film deserves to be ranked with John Krish's great portrait of age and infirmity, I Think They Call Him John, made nearly 50 years ago. London hasn't changed much since.

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