After Love, quiet drama of loss and pain

Nathalie Richard and Joanna Scanlan in After Love

When I saw that After Love had earned actress Joanna Scanlan a BAFTA for Best Leading Actress in 2022, I had to take a look at it. The story involves a new widow and her discoveries about her husband’s secret life. This is the kind of movie that isn’t meant for you to enjoy, so much as to think about and feel.

After Love begins with a static, long shot of a husband and wife coming home. The woman, Mary (Joanna Scanlan), wears a Muslim head covering. She removes it as she fusses in the kitchen making tea. By the time she carries a cup of tea to her husband in the next room, he’s died.

Joanna Scanlan in After Love
Texting from a dead man’s phone

Many shots like the opening one are removed, distant. The emotion that Mary displays as the film progresses is observed from a distance, too. The nuances and subtle cues in Scanlan’s performance are all-important in understanding what happens.

Joanna Scanlan on the cliffs of Dover in After Love
Can you see the ferry coming

Mary lived in Dover. She frequently walked out on the high cliffs, watching for her husband’s return from his job on the ferry that ran back and forth to Calais.

After his death, she found evidence of another woman, another family, in Calais. She decided to confront them. She thought she’d reveal herself as soon as she arrived, but things took a twist.

Nathalie Richard in After Love
The other woman

The woman, Geneviève (Nathalie Richard), mistook Mary for a cleaner she’d hired to help her pack and move. Mary went along with the mistaken identity, which gave her the chance to look at everything in Geneviève’s life.

Geneviève had a son, Solomon (Talid Ariss). His father was Mary’s husband. As they packed and chatted Geneviève revealed that she knew Solomon’s father was married to someone else.

A strange and unexpected bond developed between the two women and between Mary and Solomon. It turned what could have been the standard “man cheats with two families” story into something different and deeper.

The film was written and directed by Aleem Khan. There were long stretches with no dialog. Even when the speaking started it was halting and guarded. There was a lot of watching Mary cogitate on her situation. To put it another way, it was slow moving and quiet.

The film won many nominations and awards, but I wouldn’t call it a great film. It’s a lovely film, full of quiet dignity, about loss and healing.

It’s available as a rental on Prime Video now, and may be available from more streamers soon. If you take a look at it, please share your thoughts in a comment.

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