After Love, the debut from Aleem Khan, is a moving story of how secrets and lies ripple out and affect many people. At the center of the film is a quiet but expressive performance by Joanna Scanlan, an actress known more for her comedy chops than dramatic ones. You wouldn't know that as she paints a heartfelt portrait of an English Muslim woman whose life is thrust into disarray when her husband passes and his other life begins to reveal itself.
Mary (Scanlan) opens the film by putting on a kettle for her husband Ahmed (Nassar Memarzia). He has just returned from a routine work trip. He dies suddenly, seated and waiting for his tea. Mary soon discovers that Ahmed had another life in France, one that seems in stark contrast to his life with her. In what could be a high-concept plot, Mary poses as a new cleaning later from a service that Ahmed's mistress Geneviève (Nathalie Richard) is using. Khan has such a keen sense of the tragedy of the situation that this plot comes across truthfully.
Mary is lost through much of the film as she observes and learns about Geneviève's life with her husband. She begins to form a meaningful friendship with Solomon (Talid Ariss), Ahmed and Geneviève's child. This double life has left emotional damage everywhere. Solomon is struggling with why his father wasn't around more. Geneviève knew about Mary but didn't know anything about her and has wrestled with having to be the mistress. Mary is learning how little she knew about Ahmed while keeping her own secrets.
Khan lets English, French and Urdu to be spoken adding to the layers of complexity within every element of this story. Scanlan says the most without using her words. Her eyes provide so much of what is going on internally with Mary. Richard plays Geneviève as a woman who at first seems open and free of any guilt about her role. That shifts as she finds out who Mary is and what has happened to Ahmed. The interplay between these two actresses fuels the film.
After Love explores the rippling effects of a life full of secrets that are suddenly exposed. It reminds us of the complexities of the people who are close to us. It asks us to accept that we may not know everything about a partner or loved one. Featuring a phenomenal performance by Joanna Scanlan After Love is a must-see.