Lost in Cricklewood: the immigrants who wound up living on the A5

Filmmaker Mark Isaacs describes the inspiration behind his latest BBC Four documentary The Road: A Story of Life and Death

A year or so before the London Olympics was due to start and people from all over the world would arrive in London in their droves, I was thinking how great it would be to make a film about the lives of some of the people from elsewhere who were already living here in London.

I had recently moved to Kilburn from the East End of London and became fascinated by the road I was now living on. Everyday, I would pass by the hundreds of shops and houses inhabited by people from almost every corner of the globe and slowly I became determined to find out more about their lives.

The road in question is known today as the A5. It cuts a straight line from Marble Arch through Maida Vale, Kilburn and Cricklewood and continues out to the North West of London, eventually coming to an end some 260 miles away in Holyhead, North Wales. It is the UK's oldest Roman road, full of history and the ghosts of the past.

With a small team of researchers and a commission from the BBC Storyville strand, I set about looking for people on the road whose lives touched me in some way, people who I believed would have the power to move and engage a cinema and television audience and get beyond the stereotype of the ‘immigrant’. One of the first people I met was a 60 year-old Irishman called Billy. I found him staring into space in a cafe in Cricklewood accompanied by scores of other Irishmen of his generation. They seemed like a lost tribe to me. They had arrived in Cricklewood in the 1960s (via Holyhead) to build our roads and work on the transport system. None of them were working anymore, most had cut ties with the 'home country'; they were lost in Cricklewood.

Next to the cafe, a group of Eastern European men stood on the very same street corner where the Irishmen had stood 40 years earlier, hoping to be picked up by builders for a days labouring work. I grew very close to Billy over the course of filming and he revealed so much of his life to the camera. Billy passed away during the making of the film but his memory lives on in it.

Billy often spent his nights in a pub in Kilburn listening to Irish folk music. On one occasion, I filmed him watching a young Irish girl singing to the punters. Keelta had recently arrived in London from the north east of Ireland determined to make it as a singer. Her voice captivated me and I decided to follow her story too.

In a hotel in Maida Vale, an elegant and unassuming Kashmiri concierge called Iqbal, told me something that stuck in my mind throughout the process of making the film. He said: “When you leave your country and you come to a new place you lose your home twice, you lose both the place you have left behind and the place where you arrive… You think it will be the most civilised place in the world… but then you realise it is not like this”.

The film follows Iqbal as he is waiting for his wife to receive a visa so she can join him in London, and his words clarified to me just how many immigrants live in a transient space caught in between two worlds.

His words found an echo in the lives of many of the people I filmed on the road. Bridgette, a German former air stewardess, who I discovered running a lodge for foreign language students in her flamboyant home in Cricklewood, tells poignantly of how she was most happy in her life when in the air and belonging to nowhere. Now she has come down to earth, her life is more difficult as she struggles to deal with her estranged husband who ran off with her best friend.

The film’s laugh-out-loud moment is when Peggy, a 95-year-old Jewish lady from Vienna, speaks revealingly about her relationship with her husband. Peggy had a wonderful sense of humour and is perhaps my favourite character in the film. Her revelation of how she still dreams of being re-united with her mother, killed in Auschwitz, will always stick in my mind.

Through the lives of these people featured in the film, I dig into some basic questions of belonging and the search for home. Like many Londoners, I am drawn to the vibrancy and changing nature of the Capital but also acutely aware of the solitude and loneliness experienced by many who live here. Out in Colindale, I film a group of Burmese Buddhist Monks who have no interest in finding home and belonging in this world. For them, the possibility of peace lies elsewhere.

This sense of oneness with the world will never come to most of us and like the immigrants in the film we too are in a state of transience. In this sense, I hope the film holds up a mirror to all of our lives.

Storyville: The Road: A Story of Life and Death can be viewed on BBC iPlayer

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas