After Love director Aleem Khan on making films that “show, not tell”

For his debut feature, After Love, director/writer Aleem Khan has written what he knows for the big screen. It’s a film full of personal connections, from the Dover locations to his own family, especially his mother who played a major role in helping lead actor Joanna Scanlan understand the Muslim culture she was portraying.

Scanlan’s character, Mary, has been married for some years to Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia). A convert to Islam, she enjoys a happy, secure relationship inside a strong community, but everything is shattered by her husband’s sudden death and the discovery that she is only one half of his life. The other is in Calais, somewhere she’s never been, and once the realisation has sunk in, she travels across The Channel to find out more about the man she thought she knew.

Khan recalls how his mother taught gave Scanlan a bag of traditional clothes to wear at home as part of her preparation for the role. The headscarves in particular complemented his own style as a director, which he describes as “show and not tell”. With the actor’s face framed by the headscarf, it meant the camera was almost permanently trained her on face, so Khan kept dialogue to the minimum, allowing Scanlan’s expressions to do the talking and trusting the audience to understand and make up their own minds.

Khan’s upbringing in a female-centric family and culture meant that the story is told from Mary’s perspective, her private emotions and moments following the loss of her husband and her need to find a new identity for herself in particular.

Originally shown online at last year’s London Film Festival, the film arrives in cinemas this week.


After Love is released in cinemas on 4th June | Read our review of the film here