Joanna Scanlan gets a showcase for her considerable dramatic talents in After Love
In writer-director Aleem Khan’s debut feature, the great Joanna Scanlan is Mary/Fahima, a British Muslim convert residing in Dover with her husband Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia), a ferry captain to whom she’s been happily married for many years. In the film’s pre-credits sequence, their gentle domestic harmony is horribly disrupted, however, when Ahmed abruptly passes away in his armchair.
Following his funeral, an examination of Ahmed’s belongings reveals a number of text messages and the identification card of a French woman, suggesting Ahmed led a secret life with another partner in Calais, just over the water. After travelling across to find answers, the stage is set for Mary to confront the mysterious Genevieve (Nathalie Richard). But an immediate misunderstanding upon introduction, partly driven by her Muslim attire, presents an opportunity for Mary to get to know Genevieve, and subsequently a hidden aspect of her late husband, before dropping the bombshell of her true identity.
While Scanlan has had supporting roles in various dramas, her lead or central ensemble roles, largely on television, have tended to be in an explicitly comedic mode – see The Thick of It and Getting On. In After Love, however, she’s given a pure star vehicle that allows a showcase of her more dramatic chops, though with a character and predicament that encourages introversion. In a film that walks a very fine balance between naturalism and a type of melodrama that requires a certain suspension of belief from the viewer, it’s crucial that there's such an emotionally intelligent performance at its centre.