After Love Review

Faith plays surprisingly little part in the very human angle of secrecy and grief that After Love represents. Naturally, it is relied on perfectly well by director Aleem Khan, but with or without it, the gift of grief still presents itself in this narrative and the tremendous emotional encounters that split this feature into acceptance and true grieving. Death looms over After Love with this tense chance for capitulation in the opening moments. It is hard to navigate this Khan feature without that knowledge, and the unmoving camera, and the framing devices employed in this opening incorporate the dead man walking effect. Audiences know what is to come, it is the when that is shimmied in so well, so touchingly.

Much of After Love is like that. The simplicity of its framing, the subtle bits of quiet it can bring as a tender and opportune feature that relies on the rich tapestry of British multiculturalism. Khan never employs it as a crutch for writing or characterisations, instead relying on the absolutely wonderful Joanna Scanlan, a career-best performance from a woman that formed the crucial parts of the great comedic effort The Thick of It. What a turn of great events it is to see Scanlan hit upon a role that gives her the broad range and imperative discoveries that challenge her grief and that underlying confusion that comes from dealing with affairs and details that were best left unmentioned when alive.

There is a genuine desire within Khan’s feature to challenge torment, to understand how people cope with grief at varying stages. Scanlan is supremely gifted in this role, one that allows After Love to reach new levels. That genuine feel is a gift well utilised throughout, and as Scanlan’s Mary picks through the pieces of a life now lost, what becomes of her marriage and what she perceived as her life with a loved one is shattered. Sorrow can be a blessing as it allows for true closure. A lot of digging is needed on Scanlan’s part, and it feels as though Khan takes a back seat more often than not. His direction does not enforce a reaction from either character or audience, but when it does it doesn’t feel all that overwhelming. Big revelations are too fast, put together all too quickly to focus on some new realm of responsibility and quiet reflection.

But that is what After Love does best of all. Those tender moments of soft contemplation, when the orchestra kicks in to remind us that we can grieve along with Scanlan should we choose to. It is not all that warranted, but the technical merits of a score bleeding into the horn of a boat is a nice touch to, once again, remind us of the grief and the emotional battering the brain can take in times of great crisis or anguish. Mary grieves for something she didn’t know she had to worry about, that is what sits so well with After Love and so uncomfortably for the characters audiences do not get to know. Their secrets are far shadier and unmemorable than they are to Scanlan’s leading role, who shuffles through the horrors of untangling a web she never knew she’d have to deal with.

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