After Love is a moving drama about secrets, grief and closure from rising star Aleem Khan
Opening in the port town of Dover, British muslim convert Mary Hussain discovers a shocking secret when her husband unexpectedly dies – he has a whole other family living just the other side of the English channel in Calais. Mary makes the trip over hoping to get to the bottom of things and discovers the affair went far deeper than she could have imagined. After Love is a sensitively done study in uncovering secrets and reconciling with them, told from a perspective I can’t recall ever having featured in major British fiction before.
The film is led by Joanna Scanlan as Mary, she may have always been Terri from The Thick Of It to me but she has of course had a wonderfully varied career with twenty years of brilliant performances across British film and television. I found her portrayal here truly brave and understated. Though she only gets a few minutes of screentime with her deceased husband Ahmed (played by Nasser Memarzia) her feelings of love, grief and betrayal over him practically bleed from the screen. One scene in particular where she reminisces about their early years together when their relationship was forbidden is particularly poignant. Nathalie Richard and Talid Ariss are excellent as Ahmed’s French family Genevieve and Soloman – ably creating the predicament in which we see that there are no bad guys in this story, just ordinary families who each loved the deceased.
After Love’s strength lies in what is left unsaid, it’s a wonderfully subtle film that leaves much for the viewer to debate and decide for themselves. Does Mary regret converting to Islam now that she knows the man she converted for was having an affair? What leads someone to lead a double life? Were each of the couples truly happy together? As in real life there are no real answers, but plenty of rich backstory detail for us to complete the story as we see fit.
With particularly moving final scenes suggestive of reconciliation After Love is, at the end of it all, quite a hopeful film about finding common ground. Mature, sensitive and at times devastatingly honest in its portrayal of grief it is also beautifully shot, thoughtfully acted and very well written. An exceptionally skilled debut feature from a fascinating unique perspective.
After Love celebrates its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on 15th October 2020. Its director Aleem Khan has been shortlisted for the IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Award.