This is going to sound rather silly, but it has merit so please bear with me as I explain my logic and theory behind it. Non-American television and movies are typically better than American (US/Canadian) product. That is not to say that I am anti American productions, because there are plenty of American productions that are great, but there is something about British cinema that just excels and breaks down the emotional boundaries that US and Canadian cinema rarely does. The story in Aleem Khan’s After Love focuses on a widow coming to terms with a secret that she uncovers about her now deceased husband. Instead of it being this interweaving mystery of deceit and possible revenge, it is a heartbreaking story of loss and the unknown in the face of romance and the people who we thought we could trust. After Love is a sobering tale highlighting that not everything is as it appears and the people we thought we knew may not be all that truthful with us after all.
After Love focuses on Mary (Joanna Scanlan), an English woman who converted to Islam after marrying her husband, Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia). They return home one evening discussing what they brought home after a night out, and, shortly after, Ahmed unexpectedly passes away. Shortly after his death, Mary discovers the unthinkable and realizes that the man she has known since she was just a teenager, and who she converted for and married and had a child with, was not the man she knew at all as he had an entirely different family just a short 21 miles away from where she lived with him. Unsure of how to handle the information she has now discovered and how to process it, she decides to go to the other woman’s house to meet Genevieve (Nathalie Richard) and her son Solomon (Talid Ariss). Upon arriving at Genevieve’s house, she assumes Mary is someone she hired to help clean around the house and what not in preparation for a move, and instead of confronting her husband’s mistress, she goes along and tries to uncover what their relationship truly was.
In a film that is equal parts devastating and haunting, it is the performance from Joanna Scanlan that is truly the standout and the heartbeat of After Love. Where in any other world this would be an explosive drama filled with deep seeded hatred and undeniable anger, her performance is one of sheer heartbreak and dismay that evokes such strong emotional resonance with the audience. Her character is so deeply betrayed and hurt, and by carefully holding onto those emotions instead of being justifiably angry and mad, she creates such a heartfelt performance that just shatters expectations. She lost everything in her world. Then, on top of it all, found out that her world was never what she assumed it was. The performance of something so heartbreaking and damaging being packed into a hauntingly beautiful and heart-wrenching performance is something so uncanny and is brilliantly executed. However, that is not to say that Nathalie Richard also isn’t exceptional in After Love, but her performance is something almost flipped form Scanlan’s. She’s unaware that Ahmed has passed, and just assumes he’s with his wife and ignoring her. Richard lets the sense of resentment and hatred for Ahmed’s wife while being the mistress seep through her performance. It almost seems like a tale of two performances that never truly clash until the third act when everything gets turned on its head and creates a very different atmosphere all the way through to the end, making After Love a powerhouse of a film that adverts audience expectations and makes the audience examine their souls, putting them directly in tune with the characters that have revealed themselves on screen.
After Love tells a beautifully heart-wrenching story of love and understanding in difficult times. While forgiveness is certainly not an option, it is about coming to terms with one’s self and realizing that what has happened is certainly not their own fault and their life will continue on even in the messy aftermath of what has happened to them. Love as a general concept is never easy, getting over love is even harder, and that is what appears to be the main message of After Love: self love is the most important love one can have and to never doubt one’s self. After Love boasts incredible performances that are sure to haunt and linger with the audience long after the credits roll.
In select theaters January 20th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Vertigo Releasing After Love webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.