“Not a lot happens but so much happens”: Claire Rushbrook on starring in Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava
Ali & Ava is the new film from acclaimed British director Clio Barnard, following the unexpected romance that bubbles up between two very different people in the heart of Bradford, a contemporary Romeo & Juliet of lovers later in their lives. Returning to the Northern city the filmmaker has rooted many of her stories in – from The Arbor to The Selfish Giant, and in particular, its sights, sounds and idiosyncratic communities – this is a quiet and understated love story that nonetheless is brimming with nuance and emotion. Claire Rushbrook plays Ava, a widow and teaching assistant who looks too young for her position as a grandmother, “five times over”, who displays endless patience and generosity caring for her family and the young kids she works with, but is yet yearning for something more, finding solace in her favourite country songs she listens to on the bus to and from work.
Her unlikely suitor is Ali, played by Adeel Akhtar, who is a rare breed of likeable landlord, working with his British-Muslim family with a number of properties and living under the same roof as his wife he’s separated from, the spectre of a past tragedy lingering over both of them. He too has plenty of close connections yet feels estranged, his release coming from dawn moments listening to electro music in a field atop his car, a past life as DJ living on is his dancing with abandon.
When these two meet by happenchance, an organic and natural chemistry occurs that brings them closer and closer together. However, their contrasting backgrounds and family pressures threaten to pull them apart. It’s a beautiful, delicate and lovingly crafted story that resists cliche or stereotype at every turn, and without making a song and dance about it, touches on social realities of the deprived neighbourhoods in unfolds in and themes such as abuse and racism. The thread of music is also an aspect that sets it apart. It could almost be classed an unconventional musical, with the pair’s love of music being a big draw to one another across their cultural divides. As they learn to love the other’s opposing tastes, the shared love of songs from Bob Dylan to Sylvan Esso reveal the role music can play in our lives: as our own personal soundtracks, as therapy and as somehow holding in their very beats our emotions.
The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking to Rushbrook ahead of the film’s release about the brilliance of Barnard, shooting in Bradford and telling a simple yet nuanced love story.
Ali & Ava is released nationwide on 4th March 2022. Read our review of the film here. Watch our interviews on the red carpet with the director and cast here and hear more from the actors at the BIFA awards here.
Watch the trailer for Ali & Ava here: