With the next film I chose to watch at the 2020 London Film Festival, I decided to go with a bit of a wildcard, something I knew very little about but with one element that stood out to me. For this, After Love made for an interesting choice, the element that got my attention being Joanna Scanlan, who I know best for playing Terri in The Thick of It, in the lead role. This was an interesting prospect for me so I gave this one a look, and the film as a whole was just okay, but buoyed by an excellent performance from Scanlan.
The film follows Mary, who lives in Dover, whose husband, Ahmed, suddenly dies. Whilst going through Ahmed’s possessions, Mary finds out that Ahmed has another family in Calais. Heading over to Calais to confront the other family, consisting of Genevieve and Solomon, Mary is mistaken by them for a cleaner, and ends up forming a sort of relationship with her husbands other family. Now this is a film where the whole doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts. The scenes which focus on the cultural differences between Mary and Genevieve are well executed and creates an interesting dynamic in the film, which works well for the scenes near the end of the film, and there is tension in wondering what will happen when Mary reveals who she is. There is also an interesting idea in play with Mary’s relationship with Solomon, with Mary wanting to create a relationship to replace that she wishes she had with her child, who died a few months after being born. However, there are elements which I think could have been given more attention. There are some themes raised about the cultural differences resulting from Mary converting to Islam as part of her marriage, but this theme isn’t explored to the extent it could have been. Additionally, there is some interesting visual elements with Mary seeing destruction around her and an interesting use of white, comparing the clothes Mary wears to Ahmed’s funeral to the White Cliffs of Dover, but to me nothing really came of this visual element.
What works about the film is the lead performance from Joanna Scanlan. Wherever the film fumbles, Scanlan picks it up, creating a powerful performance, showing her own feelings of anger and grief, the difficulties she faces when confronting Genevieve and her own body image issues when comparing how she looks to the way Genevieve looks. The static camera work and use of close ups meanwhile allow the audience to see every emotion on Scanlan’s face and the subtle changes that Scanlan does to inform her character. Her performance is really what makes the film worth watching. Good work is also seen from Nathalie Richard as Genevieve and Talid Ariss as Solomon, with Ariss in particular bringing in interesting work regarding the relationship he wants to have with Ahmed and his own sexuality, although, again, these are themes which are not really given the time they need to be fully explored.
Overall, I found After Love to be a pretty flawed film, where not enough time was given to the thematic weight of the film to make it a truly great experience, but the incredible central performance from Joanna Scanlan makes it worth a watch.
My Rating: 3/5