Elephant Days

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Directed by James Caddick and James Cronin

London Film Festival review

Day(s) in the life of one of London’s most vibrant communities

Like many areas of London, Elephant and Castle is currently undergoing a radical change. In a decade, this patch of Central London will be largely unrecognisable as waves of gentrification subsume the area. It’s a thorny issue that Elephant Days rarely tackles explicitly, choosing instead to celebrate community and diversity.

The titular Elephant Days are viewed through the eyes of a number of characters from the area. Indie darlings The Maccabees are the documentary’s fulcrum. We follow them through the production of their fourth album, seeing their music-writing process and learning about why the area is special to them. The quintet also provide the film’s soundtrack. However theirs is perhaps the least compelling story in the colourful tapestry of London life that the film presents.

Over the 80 minute running time we are introduced to various prominent local characters, from a couple working to create a community garden in an abandoned estate to a key figure in a local church who uses her prayers to heal the suffering of others. This broad spectrum of humanity will be instantly recognisable to most, giving the film an air of pleasant familiarity.

Elephant and Castle, a vibrant community facing radical changes
Elephant and Castle, a vibrant community facing radical changes

The standout vignette chronicles a local youth basketball team, the Peckham Pride, through a national tournament. There’s a hint of the classic sports movie to their sections, as an overbearing but affectionate coach pushes the team to be the best that they can be (with more than a few rousing speeches along the way). It’s an old story but a compelling one and the filmmakers make the most of it.

The other highlight is Natty, an exuberant actor and musician who embodies many of the best qualities of community spirit. His tale starts off with a heartwarming trip to a local tailor only to segue into a more sombre examination of how race effects a person’s sense of belonging. One senses the directors’ fear that such characters will be forced out of the area by the development planned for Elephant and Castle.

Elephant Days is a particularly British examination of community (and not just because part of it takes place in a pie shop). It celebrates diversity and urban living but is acutely aware of the problems that come with inner-city life, creating a very deliberate conflict. Its examination of the inner workings of one of London’s most distinctive boroughs will entertain not just locals but anyone with experience of life in modern Britain.


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