Ali & Ava (2022)

Director: Clio Barnard

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rushbrook, Ellora Torchia, Shaun Thomas, Natalie Gavin, Mona Goodwin, Krupa Pattini, Vinny Dhillon, Tasha Connor, Macy Shackleton

Having built a career making social-realist dramas, writer/director Clio Barnard uses that sub-genre to make a touching romance set in a Bradford council estate. Ali (Adeel Akhtar) is a landlord grappling with a recent separation, left with only messy feelings in the aftermath. While picking up his tenants child on a rainy day, Ali offers a lift to the child's teacher, Ava (Claire Rushbrook). From that initial meeting, a connection forms as the adults find the happiness they've been longing for.

Navigating their relationship around familial expectations, the pair share their personal demons while grappling with painful truths they fear will affect their families. One stand-out moment has Ava recounting her horrific history, her struggle powerfully depicted thanks to the exceptional talents in-front of and behind the camera. While it sounds tough, this serious material is surrounded by such joy and hopefulness throughout.

An important part of Ali's life is music, the thing he turns to for solace in the darker moments and which grants him a burst of life. This also lays the foundations for his and Ava's relationship as, despite having different tastes, they bond over a shared appreciation and swap recommendations. A tender scene shows them sitting together with their headphones on, enjoying the time shared while listening to their individual tunes. These moments effectively show their relationship blossoming as they enjoy each others company, with Akhtar and Rushbrook's terrific performance capturing such charming chemistry.

The only misstep arrives late in the film when trouble arises for the pair, as the execution resembles a soap opera more than what Barnard has crafted. This leaves the moment to unfortunately not ring true, although that's thankfully a rarity in this warm-hearted love story excellently crafted by a fantastic British filmmaker.

Ali & Ava is available in cinemas now