After Love Review – BFI London Film Festival 2020
Director: Aleem Khan
Starring: Joanna Scanlan, Nasser Memarzia, Nathalie Richard, Seema Morar
Making his feature-length debut, Aleem Khan directs Joanna Scanlan in new drama After Love.
The film, which is also written by Khan, follows Scanlan’s character Mary, an English Muslim, as she mourns the sudden death of her husband.
However, whilst enduring her bereavement she discovers a secret that her husband was hiding from her.
This discovery takes Mary on a journey across the English Channel where she seeks the truth that has been hidden from her.
Searching For the Truth
After Love eases viewers into the story with a more subdued beginning and although it does set up the premise for the movie in the opening scenes it isn’t until Mary makes it across the Channel that the film really becomes engaging.
What helps the narrative develop the most is the way in which Khan allows the audience to know more than certain characters.
This creates a ticking time bomb of dramatic suspense in which viewers get to watch as characters edge closer and closer to the truth throughout the film’s running time.
In addition to this, it also offers the anticipation of whether or not those characters in the know will reveal their truth to the others.
Watching the drama unfold with the context of this knowledge cleverly enhances the quality of the viewing experience for audiences, showcasing Khan’s talent for screenwriting and direction.
Speaking Through the Silence
Complementing Khan’s clever writing is the performances of his cast.
Scanlan confidently leads the film’s small cast with a powerful performance of a woman searching for the truth amidst her own emotional turmoil due to the loss of her husband.
There is a lot of silence in Scanlan’s performance yet she is able to communicate so much with just a stare or a pause.
It can be easy for performers to rely on dialogue-heavy screenplays but Scanlan doesn’t have that luxury here.
She excels in the subtle and quiet nature of this film but also delivers in the abrupt moments in which she uses her assured performance in a differing and more direct manner.
For the majority of the film Scanlan shares the screen with just two other performers, Nathalie Richard and Talid Ariss.
Both of these cast members work well with Scanlan and allow for different aspects of her character to arise.
Youngster Ariss particularly stands out as he’s tasked with channelling a lot of the film’s emotional beats.
He shares an interesting chemistry with Scanlan and it’s the scenes that they star in together which become the most poignant.
After Love, What’s Next?
With After Love Khan has delivered a tight-knit and emotional debut feature, putting at its core a middle-aged Muslim woman.
Women like these are rarely seen on screen and especially not as main characters, Khan has given a voice to this underrepresented group and audiences will be all the better for having witnessed a woman like this as a protagonist.
His drama is often touching thanks to his careful writing and the performances of Scanlan, Richard and Ariss.
This small cast and his focused story allow for an engrossing exploration of culture, relationships and emotion and in doing so Khan has created an impressive debut feature ensuring that his name is one to watch in the coming years.
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