After Love

 

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An admirable debut, this film finds drama in the lives of ordinary people.

 

After Love

Joanna Scanlan

 

Still they come: Aleem Khan who wrote and directed After Love is just the latest of many filmmakers to give us a first or second feature which, arriving since the outbreak of Covid-19, has helped us to feel that the art of cinema is alive and well and that it has a future. A number of these works have been British and Khan himself was born in Kent and has a mixed heritage, part-British and part-Pakistani. Consequently, it is no surprise that After Love should centre on an English woman, Mary (Joanna Scanlan), who lives in Dover and has a husband, Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia), who is from Pakistan. On marrying him she had willingly adopted Islam as her religion and accepted the Muslim name of Fahima. Khan’s familiarity with such situations enables him to portray his characters and their life-style with total conviction and in Scanlan he has an actress who seizes on this rare opportunity to appear in a leading cinema role (she stood out in 2013 in The Invisible Woman but that was in the supporting role of Catherine, wife of Charles Dickens, and she fully deserves this chance to shine).

 

If the initial set-up seems a natural one for Khan to choose for his debut feature, what is less expected is the direction that After Love takes thereafter. Mary is a woman in her sixties contented with her lot, but very early on in the film her husband dies and it is only then that she comes to realise that he had been living a double life arising from the fact that his work on the ferry had regularly taken him back and forth between Dover and Calais. Messages received on his mobile phone together with papers seen for the first time make it clear to her that he had been involved with a French woman, Genevieve (Nathalie Richard) and Mary travels to Calais intending to confront her. What she finds in Calais includes a discovery that should not be revealed here, but it can be said that, although a second marriage had not been involved, she learns that Ahmed’s relationship with Genevieve had been both serious and long-term.

 

There is a distant echo here of Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Bigamist which, dealing with a not entirely dissimilar situation, adopted a sympathetic approach to all three of its central characters. Here we wait to see just what Mary will learn and how she will respond to Genevieve and Khan handles it not only with great technical assurance as director but with a control of tone which ensures that After Love feels real and avoids melodrama. It does have to be admitted that there are one or two plot contrivances and a couple of minor incidents are given a symbolical force that doesn’t quite fit. But, if After Love is less than a masterpiece, it is certainly an impressive work and one that gains from perfect casting. Nathalie Richard matches quite admirably the approach taken by Joanna Scanlan, Talid Ariss is no less persuasive in the main subsidiary role and Scanlan herself in a performance notable for facial expressiveness makes the central figure compellingly real. In doing so she brings out Mary’s strength but also her vulnerability. Indeed, she achieves the depth found in the very best work of Brenda Blethyn and something of the quality displayed by Frances McDormand in this year’s worthy Oscar winner Nomadland.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Joanna Scanlan, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss, Nasser Memarzia, Sudha Bhuchar, Nisha Chadha, Jabeen Butt, Subika Anwar-Khan, Elijah Braik, Adam Karim, David Hecter.


Dir Aleem Khan, Pro Matthieu de Braconier, Screenplay Aleem Khan, Ph Alexander Dynan, Pro Des Sarah Jenneson, Ed Gareth C. Scales, Music Chris Roe, Costumes Niragemirage.


BFI/BBC Films/The Bureau-BFI Distribution.
89 mins. UK/USA. 2020. Rel: 4 June 2021. Cert. 12A.