wed 19/06/2024

The Romanians Are Coming, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

The Romanians Are Coming, Channel 4

The Romanians Are Coming, Channel 4

Immigration story told from the inside? Comedy unexpected

No place like home: Sandu and his son in Baia MoreGus Palmer

The Romanians Are Coming was the immigration story from the other side. Bustling along with the wry, sometimes desperate comedy (and themed music) of a Balkan film, its characters said things about themselves that others would hardly get away with. “I’m going to tell you the stories of some of the arseholes like me who came to take your jobs,” said narrator Alex Fechete Petru at the beginning of James Bluemel’s revealing three-parter.

It showed both the lives of three hapless characters as they sought work, or just survival, in the UK, and their homes in the desolate location of Baia More back in Romania whence they hailed.

For the briefest moment I wondered if Channel 4 was pulling a fast one on us, and this was a spoof. Its opening laconic meditation was that while America may be getting ready to go to Mars, Romania was still using the horse: judging by how things looked back there, you might have thought the arrival of horsepower was only a recent development. Work opportunties, scrap metal, and if you don’t find any, no supper; recreational activities, glue-sniffing. Gypsy Alex was explaining his pride in being a gypsy, insisting “even the little dog is gypsy”. But no, this was the often grim reality of precarious lives: the word “shit” cropped up a lot. Shit jobs, shitty teeth for fixing on the NHS, scaring the shit out of us.

The idea of state healthcare didn’t seem familiar either, given its effective absence back home

We’re due to learn more about Petru’s own story in the next episode apparently, and for now he showed us those of three of his fellow countrymen – Alex (another one, who’d come from Canada), Sandu and Stepan. Recognising a fellow countryman is easy apparently, as they played a game of “Spot the Romanian” around Victoria bus station, which was home, on the floor of what seemed to be an often empty car park (Alex in situ, pictured below right), temporary shelter that was at least better than camping out (“if it rains, we’re fucked”). It was the details that were telling. You could get free internet in the bus station, but only for the minutes or so when a Megabus was on the stand. A job agency wouldn’t give you a chance unless you offered a fixed address: that must have involved a degree of fibbing, and you ended up cleaning the same streets as you’d been sleeping on.

We did wonder what preconceptions might have brought them over here. Hapless Sandu was just never going to make it with his English (lack thereof). “Do you want delivery or work inside?” he was asked at Liverpool fried chicken joint, but didn’t notice that he was being offered a choice. He did seem delighted by a Liverpool shopping centre, though. He was back home by the closing titles.

Stefan had applied for job seeker’s allowance. For the time being he was trying his luck on the employment front as a Charlie Chaplin impersonator/statue – one of seven Romanians around doing that act in London, apparently. Let’s just say he didn’t seem a natural, and takings weren’t great. When his benefit did come through he was delighted, even if when director Bluemel asked where he thought it came from, he didn’t have much of a clue. “From the EU?” he hazarded. Then it was off to the dentist. The idea of state healthcare didn’t seem familiar either, given its effective absence back home: Stefan’s main motivation was to get together money to fix his daughter’s leg after a doctor had botched an operation, or better still bring her and the rest of his family over to the UK.

These are not outcomes that are going to go down well in some quarters, though perversely the two sides may find some common ground. “When I see beggars on your streets I’m ashamed to be a gypsy,” Alex said, “and, though I hate UKIP and Mr Nigel, I agree that they should be sent home.” Narrator Alex told us that only one tenth of the 25,000 or so Romanians who had arrived since the beginning of 2014 were on benefits. We’ll see how that dialogue develops over the next couple of weeks. Taking so frequently comic an approach to a subject that doesn’t usually get covered in exactly that light, The Romanians Are Coming looks like it’s going to surprise us.

For the briefest moment I wondered if Channel 4 was pulling a fast one on us, and this was a spoof


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Hey, Tom Birchenough, this is NOT an "Immigration story told from inside" !!! The fact that a gypsy reads a script that the British director gave him, makes, this called "documentary", as real as the Kardashians. Not only it's offensive, by identifying all Romanians as gypsies, but also racist. Anyway "great" UKIP propaganda ;) It sure catches on with low IQ, easy to brainwash morons.

The title is perfectly devised to push various xenophobic buttons (perfectly timed before the elections). Also, "from the viewpoint of the immigrants"? That is perhaps the most superb misinformation this side of the English Channel. If one, for a moment, considers this as something told from the viewpoint of an *ethnic minority* person from Romania, then one gets a tiny bit closer to reality. However, see infinitely more exhaustive treatments of this topic, will full socio-cultural background and the "clash of civilisations", at least in Lucian Boia's superb "Romania: Borderline of Europe" or the Transylvanian-born immigrant Lehel Vandor's analysus "Ears". In this "documentary" series there is, at best, a wholly biased and utterly superficial, even farcical in tone, treatment of a very stereotypically presented topic. One has to wonder about its deliberate angle and its timing, before the elections...

Ok. let's show like 3 needle parks in the uk ,and say this is uk.or let's show the hooligans , and the drunk girls that drink to death and fall asleep on the streets,the parents asylum,and say this is britain,without showing any other images out of u know we have more medical graduates than you do?Because medical school costs you over 50000 k a year and it's only 2k at us (euro) .This mockumentary is for the brits manipulation and to show them, who cannot afford college how "bad" romanians are getting by and distract british of their drunken and stoned society.those pictures he showed.And the "romanian" gypsies are paid,of course by channel 4.We are happy we got rid of our gypsies.We are trying that for over 2 centuries when an idiot released them from slavery.U took them? we don't want them back.We did not think we'll ever find a nation that could be so stupid to buy our gypsies,because you pay for them too,But god save the queen!!! 

Thank you, Romania, for ballerina Alina Cojocaru, pianist Dinu Lipatti, sopranos Angela Gheorghiu and Ileana Cotrubas, sculptor Constantin Brancusi, tennis player Ilie Nastase, playwright Eugène Ionesco, conductor Sergiu Celibidache, actors Edward G Robinson and Johnny Weissmuller, among others.

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