mon 10/08/2020

The Real Eastenders, Channel 4 review - timewarp on the Thames | reviews, news & interviews

The Real Eastenders, Channel 4 review - timewarp on the Thames

The Real Eastenders, Channel 4 review - timewarp on the Thames

Idiosyncratic doc records the life and times of the Isle of Dogs

Generation game: Brendan, Nanny B and Lynne

This quirky little film about the Isle of Dogs (Channel 4), a vanishing fragment of the old London docklands overshadowed by the Canary Wharf skyscrapers while its traditional homes are usurped by new and unloveable tower blocks, presented a flavoursome line-up of rogues, jokers and eccentrics. Some families have lived there for 150 years, but now the community's future is under threat from property developers and big business.

Local songwriter Hak Baker (pictured below), a rare Caribbean face in this white working-class world, helped the story along with his acoustic guitar ballads as he narrated the stories of some of the Isle's residents while adding a commentary slightly too fond of salt-of-the-earth cliches (“family came first, you worked hard, then had a good old knees-up at the end of the week" etc). Antique archive footage of song and dance nights down the pub made you think that at any moment Stanley Holloway might appear, singing “With a Little Bit of Luck”.

However, filmmaker Ashley Francis-Roy displayed a shrewd eye for character. Nine-year-old Willow delivered hilarious impersonations of the locals and their geezer-ish mannerisms, while octogenarian Nanny B was ferociously territorial. The story goes that the place-name derives from Henry VIII, ensconced in nearby Greenwich Palace, kennelling his hunting hounds there. “Then they decided to call it the Isle of Dogs – well I won’t have it,” she fumed. “This is Millwall!”

Then there was Brendan, a sixth-generation resident living with his nan Lynne after his mother was arrested when he was four. With his huge vocabulary, academic demeanour and nerdish fascination with the DLR railway, he was like a miniature version of Brains from Thunderbirds.

Three generations of Leslies supplied the instructional core of the film. Twelve-year-old Leslie had been pining for his dad Big Leslie’s release from jail. Once he was out, his wisecracking, larger-than-life father celebrated by taking them to Majorca. Joining them was his dad, Leslie Senior, prompting a debate about changing times and family values. Les Senior, appalled by increasing street violence, thinks his son is too lenient with his grandson. Jailbird Les admitted that “I’ve never ‘it ‘im, I just raise me voice”, but says it’s because he’s guilty about missing chunks of his son’s childhood. As for Leslie Junior, he yearns to become a model father who’s always there for his kids.

Her old way of life may be disappearing, but Nanny B will defend it to the bitter end. “Cockneys don’t give in – we’re stubborn,” she declared, as if the bugler was blowing “The Last Post” as the sun went down. It made rather touching viewing.

Brendan was like a miniature version of Brains from 'Thunderbirds'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters