Last Night's TV: Wonderland: A Hasidic Guide to Love, Marriage and Finding a Bride/BBC2
Poms in Paradise/ITV1

Paddy Wivell's film about the Hasidic Jewish community of Stamford Hill began by indulging an outsider's prejudice. What would most viewers' working assumptions be, after all? A world of arcane religious prescription, with every detail of life dictated by ancient texts? So... no establishing shot of beaver-hatted Hasids in a London street but a close-up of a book of rules, one from which no detail of life appeared too negligible to be excluded: "Finger and toenails should not be cut on the same day," read the text, "nor should the nails and the hair be cut on Rosh Chodesh, even when it occurs on a Friday." An additional note, which I think was supposed to be optional, said that sequential cutting of the fingernails was avoided by some and offered a mnemonic for the correct order in which to do your clipping (I'm not making this up for comic effect). But then, just as your scorn was peaking, it was undercut by a winningly human detail. "I bite my nails, I don't cut them," admitted Gaby, who spends large parts of his days devotedly studying such absurdities. "It's disgusting," confirmed his chuckling wife, Tikwah, "He bites his nails." Which inevitably raised a question. What's the rule about that? It seemed implausible that it wouldn't be covered somewhere since – as Gaby explained – "everything is controlled... for instance... excuse my English... you're not allowed to fart with tefillin on your head." One would love to know the circumstances in which a relieving gust is regarded as entirely kosher, but Gaby didn't elaborate.

Wonderland: A Hasidic Guide to Love, Marriage and Finding a Bride was, notionally at least, an attempt to portray a unique community, a little patch of north London that appears to be twinned with medieval Lublin. In truth, there was always going to be a problem with delivering a representative picture of this subculture, given that one of distinctive characteristics of Hasidic Jews is an inclination to tell men with film cameras to go away. As a result, Wivell's film depended on two rather uncharacteristic families – Gaby and Tikwah, who seem to be the closest you get to wild free spirits in a Hasidic community, and Avi Bresler, a local businessman whose CV features a spell in jail for money-laundering and who now lives apart from his wife (which is almost as unusual in Hasidic circles). Gaby and Tikvah were on hand to explain and deliver a running commentary. Avi was in the film, one guesses, because he didn't mind Wivell filming his oldest son's wedding, or tagging along as he tried to find a bride for a younger one.

Wivell was a bit edgy to begin with, anxious that virtually anything he did might break some religious taboo. He stammered apologetically after instinctively shaking Tikwah's hand when he was first introduced, though she didn't seem to feel she'd been irretrievably polluted. "I'll forgive you," she said laughing, "How should you know?" After a while, though, Wivell began to relax, gratified to discover that Hasids could have fun (the all-male wedding disco seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed by all) and that observance was an odd hybrid of rigour and human circumvention. Attending a wild Hasid knees-up in the Ukrainian town of Uman, Wivell was on hand when Bradley – an adoptive Hasid – accidentally flicked a light switch on the sabbath, but explained that he was in the clear because he hadn't intended to break the rules. Wivell also noted the useful work-around for devout cigarette smokers, who aren't allowed to light or extinguish a cigarette on the sabbath but can transfer the flame from someone else's already-lit gasper. Presumably, they work out some kind of rota system to get them through the day.

Avi had some problems with the matchmaking side of things, a spell inside not being high on the tick-list of desirable qualities in a father-in-law. Visiting a professional matchmaker in Stamford Hill, he commendably put this awkward detail on the table right away, confident that it needn't be a deal breaker. "The good side will cover it," he said hopefully, explaining that money wasn't going to be a problem and that his son was a real catch. The matchmaker's face told you that the good side wouldn't cover it, and in the end, Avi had to head off to Israel, where he enlisted his own mother in the task of finding a suitable bride. After some false starts, Toli got a promising lead and Avi – who talked with some feeling about his own father's early death – looked a little less fretful. Since even the easy-going Gaby didn't approve of all of the film ("an extreme way of life is not the religious way of life," he said sternly, after Wivell had been on the Ukrainian pilgrimage), one imagines less camera-friendly Hasids would absolutely hate it. In fact, for all its bemusement at the small print of Talmudic law, it was a sympathetic study of lives that were simultaneously alien and familiar – a reminder that even the most strenuous attempts to separate yourself from the world at large can't mask the universals of parenthood and marriage.

Poms in Paradise, a documentary series about expatriate Brits in Australia, looks as if it's been sponsored by the Australian government, consisting of an almost unbroken hymn of praise to the climate, the lifestyle and the opportunities of God's Own Country. Its combination of optimism, material gratification and casualness is perfectly summed up, one contributor explained, by the phrase "She'll be right, mate." I don't think Hasids would feel entirely at home.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence