After Love

Aw man, what a great movie. Real emotional journey.

It stars Joanna Scanlan as Mary, a woman who loses her husband of 40 years, only to discover after his death that he led a double-life with another woman in France. Her husband Ahmed is a ferry captain at the Dover-Calais crossing, and his marriage to Mary is one of domestic bliss, and they are active in Dover’s Muslim community. It’s an image of family, faith and fulfilment, which is why his death is so devastating to Mary.

But it’s like a second death when she finds messages on his phone to another woman. She travels to Calais and finds he’s had this whole other life with this leggy, blonde French woman, and it was pretty different, very secular, with him drinking alcohol and carrying on. Mary goes on this journey trying to get to know her husband after his death, a man she has known since she was 14, who she thought she knew like the back of her hand.

But the movie’s also kind of about that, about how even those we think we know best can remain mysteries to us, including ourselves. Mary’s journey to rediscover her husband is also a journey about who she is to, what her life was about, after all this.

Joanna Scanlan’s portrayal is just so moving. Almost everything is communicated without dialogue, and even the dialogue is not about what is actually happening in the scene. Her depiction of the immediate grief she feels after Ahmed’s death is just shellshock, an absolute sense of otherworldliness, you almost feel like you are floating with her through scenes. And then when she discover Ahmed’s betrayal, there is just this dry, hot, breathless grief, something unspeakable, which she can barely come to terms with. And then there was this moment, she goes to boil a cup of tea, and realises as she goes to pour it, she’s set out two cups. And she stops suddenly, thinking, “Who the fuck am I pouring this for?” and there is bright stinging pain on her face, cutting through the fog, and tears just sprang into my eyes watching her, you just felt for her so.

This doesn’t get said enough, but Joanna Scanlan is an amazing actor. She does these amazing dramatic performances, and then stars in so many comedies with just perfect timing. She has such a range. She honestly doesn’t get the recognition she deserves.

At one point in the film, the cracks in Mary come together, and she breaks down in tears as she gets down to pray. It’s like the only person she can share this deep hurt with now is God, and she clutches at her rug, like she is trying desperately to hold onto her faith to get through this. Your heart just goes out to her.

The sound design of the film is also great, with these sounds of water boiling for tea, the crash of waves against the white cliffs of Dover, sounds that are at once so very English and yet so universal. They underscore the rising tumult inside Mary, this sense of being overwhelmed, drowning.

Just a lovely film, very human and very intimate.

If you like this …