Winner of the Best Drama Award at last year’s Portobello Film Festival, Jermaine and Elsie tells the story of two worlds colliding through the form of a short film. Jermaine is a carer who’s always willing to go the extra mile, and sticks with it even if he’s not treated in the nicest way – Elsie, on the other hand, has grown incredibly disgruntled with the world and takes it out on everyone she encounters. It’s set in the West Kensington area, and through both Jermaine and Elsie it highlights some of the issues facing working class people in that part of London.
In the wake of the Grenfell disaster, and with the country buckling under continued Tory austerity, this film’s importance is clear for all to see. Given that it is located so close to one of London’s most affluent boroughs (Kensington & Chelsea), it’s startling to see the difference in the quality of life; telling stories like this which resonate with people and educate others is a good way to try and redress the balance.
It is written by Ashley Campbell (with additional dialogue from Adele Silva), who also stars as Jermaine, and comes across in an incredibly natural way – even over the course of 20 minutes you can feel the characters’ relationship develop in a step-by-step fashion, until Elsie feels comfortable enough to relax things a little (“I’ve got used to you now, Jermaine”).
Marji Campi’s portrayal of Elsie also works wonders with this, as you gradually see the hard exterior crumble and they become friendly; the change is clearly brought about by Jermaine’s influence and her trust in him. There’s nothing at all contrived about it – though it’s clear she can be a difficult person, some bad experiences with previous carers have put her on the defensive and that causes her to lash out. To make Elsie likeable by the end of the film is no walk in the park, but the combination of Campbell’s writing and Campi’s performance make it both believable and heartbreaking.
Campbell’s turn, too, is rather poignant; not only is Jermaine selfless in his work, but he’s also battling a long-term illness at the same time, though never once do you hear him complain or use it as an excuse not to get on with things. There is wonderful chemistry between Campi and Campbell, with the latter’s understated performance acting as the perfect foil. Suzie Chard is also great value as Val, one of the other carers.
Thanks to some sensitive direction from Leon Lopez, West London itself also becomes an additional character in the story; always there in the background, it definitely has a personality that is all its own. Whether it’s the red buses or familiar streets, you know it’s London. Aaron Hyatt and Gianluca Pampagnin’s Elsie’s Theme is a touching composition which adds that extra emotional hit to this bittersweet story.
My verdict? A touching London story, beautifully told and sensitively directed – Ashley Campbell and Marji Campi are excellent as the titular duo.
Jermaine and Elsie will be broadcast on London Live on 27 June 2018 at 4.30pm