After Love, 2020.
Written and directed by Aleem Khan.
Starring Joanna Scanlan, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss and Nasser Memarzia.
Set in the port town of Dover, Mary Hussain suddenly finds herself a widow following the unexpected death of her husband. A day after the burial, she discovers he has a secret just twenty-one miles across the English Channel in Calais.
From BAFTA-nominated writer-director Aleem Khan (Three Brothers) comes After Love, a thoughtful, powerful and poignant work, centred around grieving widow Mary Hussain (Joanna Scanlan, The Thick of It, Kinky Boots) in the aftermath of her husband Ahmed’s (Nasser Memarzia, Honour, The Night Manager) death.
That Mary is a Caucasian convert to Islam adds interesting elements to her story but, ultimately, the film is most focused on her character’s mettle and how she copes with discovering her dead husband’s shattering web of secrets. As his betrayal only deepens, Mary’s reaction sees her immersed in his secret double life in Calais with Geneviève (Nathalie Richard, Never Let Me Go, The Divorce).
It’s a beautifully heartrending performance from Scanlan, as Mary’s trauma turns to curiosity when she’s offered a fortuitous way into Geneviève’s life after being mistaken for a cleaner. Tension bubbles in the background as Mary struggles to reveal her true identity, instead being sucked further into her late husband’s deception as she struggles with the reality of it.
After Love is an intimate, raw portrait of one woman’s anguish – and two women’s parallel lives. The difference between them is striking and sits uncomfortably alongside the sacrifices that Mary willingly made for her husband, particularly when contrasted with his apparent hypocrisy in France. However, Khan manages to make space for all of his characters without judging them. Part of Mary’s reluctance to drop her bombshell is her fascination in learning about how she fits into this hidden chunk of Ahmed’s life with Geneviève, and along the way the two women find an affinity. Geneviève could be easily dismissed as the home-wrecking man-eater, and Mary the duped victim, but it’s more than that. Interactions between the pair and Geneviève’s son (Talid Ariss) – who has secrets of his own – are authentic and engaging, allowing for an easy and more realistically unpredictable unfolding of events.
After Love is a film that will stay with you after the credits roll. Its simplicity and poignancy, courtesy of Khan’s tight and insightful writing and directing, combined with the impact of Joanna Scanlan masterful performance, makes it a film that should be sought out.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★