The Street


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

The Street
"Because it is filmed over time and because it is the result of so many conversations, it has depth." | Photo: Zed Nelson

Part love letter, part epitaph, The Street documents in minute, personal detail the demise of an East London working class community. Old, in every sense of the word, established, and no longer affordable, this is the story of Hoxton St and the folks that live - that lived - in and around it.

The film, shot across four years by director Zed Nelson, is an intimate, sometimes uncomfortable insight into the lives and attitudes of that community. The tone, reinforced by a mournful, occasional sax background, is stoic, wistful. No coincidence that it opens with footage of an old-fashioned funeral parlour loading up the horse-drawn hearse for a send-off. Then next door to the pie and mash shop: the last of its kind, its owner explains, serving this traditional English dish to locals.

Copy picture

But they are losing. Every day, they are losing, to a motley assortment of new competitors.

“A craft beer shop? Where's that come from?”, observes one resident ruefully. Alongside the posh cafes and delis and gyms and the hand-made bike shop.

“I'm 82...we were here all through the bombing”, observes another. “This was the hub....these communities were very very hemmed in.”

But: “There's no way your kids could live here because of crazy prices. It's not gentrified, it's poncified”.

It's a “different world...but [to Zed] your world. You're young”.

So far, so everyday. After all, as one of the newcomers, setting up a shiny new agency business, comments: “Cities just change. That's life.”

He has a point. And yet, and yet...the laundrette has gone, the pubs have gone, and houses are being sub-let for silly money as people – landlords, speculators, developers - look to maximise their profits. Billboards extolling the virtues of new developments are populated with shiny smiley faces quite unlike those of the age-worn locals.

Perhaps, like me, you will be shocked by the abrupt switch, back and forth, between the poor locals and the sharply suited, wealthy professionals. And if not that, then you will be left mouth agape at the two million being asked for a studio flat, as unreachable, price-wise, to the local community, as Alpha Centauri.

This is slow motion tragedy. In one sense, no different from similar stories told a dozen times over across British cities: old communities forced out, broken up for the sake of money and progress. But because it is filmed over time and because it is the result of so many conversations, it has depth. In the background, adding mood music and counterpoint to on-screen events is history being made. British Prime Minister David Cameron announces, and loses, the Brexit referendum. The result is greeted with grief by one European resident. A little later, we have news of the Kensington tower block fire. There is horror. And resignation.

Sit back and let this film wash over you and there is much to learn here about what has been going wrong in Britain. Some residents, rightly, identify property speculators and gentrification as the issue. Many, though. express outright racism, blaming “foreigners” for their plight. But many, many have fallen for the easier narrative. A demo appears: the “usual suspects”, bedecked in union jack outfits and chanting “we want our country back.”

Do you blame them?

Their life is going down the pan, so somebody easily identifiable – someone with a different colour skin or a funny accent - must be to blame. Even the movers and beneficiaries of this process don't quite get it. As one proprietor of a new, yuppified cafe puts it, without self-awareness or irony, “When I first came here it was a shithole...but an affordable shithole. Before the gentrification.”

Might he be part of the problem? Not as far as he is aware.

This is a well-done documentary which does not force its agenda on the viewer. But watch, listen and you will learn much.

One day, I suspect, historians will be mining this material for insight.

An interesting and rewarding project.

Reviewed on: 31 Mar 2020
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The Street packshot
Documentary charting the gentrification of a street in London's Hoxton, where locals face being priced out.
Amazon link

Director: Zed Nelson

Year: 2019

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: UK


London 2019

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