Film review: A House in Jerusalem ‘Where this film flounders is in its depiction of a British Jewish family’


Miley Locke

A House in Jerusalem


Reviewed by John Nathan

This film has its roots in a deal made between the UK and the PLO “for the benefit of the Palestinian Authority”, as the agreement puts it. But the bigger surprise is that the main protagonist in the first UK-Palestinian co-production to be made under the agreement, which was was signed in 2010, is a fictional ten-year-old British Jewish girl called Rebecca Shapiro played by Miley Locke, best known for starring in the Bafta-winning BBC series There She Goes.

In this movie Locke plays the survivor of a road accident that killed her mother. The film – which is directed by Palestinian Muayad Alayan, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Rami – begins a year after the tragedy as Rebecca and her father Michael (Johnny Harris) attempt to make a new start by moving to the West Jerusalem house Michael’s grandfather bought from the Israeli government in the 1960s.

It is a grand double-fronted affair set in its own grounds. However, Rebecca soon becomes aware that the property is occupied by another little girl. Her name is Rasha (Sheherazade Makhoul Farrell) who appears to live chiefly in the garden well.

Rebecca’s father cannot see Rasha who, it emerges, is a ghost of the house’s past. This makes it easier for the two children to form a friendship through which Rebecca learns about the history of the house and how it came into the hands of her family.

Rasha’s lost doll, meanwhile, becomes a pivotal plot device that sees Rebecca make her way through Israeli checkpoints to Bethlehem. She does this by inserting herself into a small group of Christians, none of whom notices that a little girl has joined their number.

This is one of several hard-to-believe elements of the film, which is pitched as a ghost story with a hint of thriller about it.

Another is that although the family are apparently not particularly observant Jews, Rebecca says the Shema (but not Kaddish) when she looks at pictures of her late mother.

Where this film really flounders, however, is in its depiction of a British Jewish family – particularly in the way this Jewish parent has apparently never discussed Israel, its history or relevance or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with his daughter.

Conveniently for the plot, Rebecca is completely ignorant about the subject, so it is left up to Rasha and a kindly Palestinian lady in Bethlehem to do the educating. For Rebecca’s father the subject must all be too difficult and filled with shame to broach, seems to be the implication.

I don’t have any beef with Palestinian filmmakers depicting British Jews. But there is something awfully presumptuous about this film.

And the depiction of a Jewish family whose ten-year-old daughter has no idea about the context in which Israel was established and exists makes you wonder if the creators, casting director and producers actually know any Jews. 

But then integrity and complexity in the way this film’s characters are depicted may never have been the priority here.

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