General 11 April 2022
Nick Mortimore Ali and Ava Blog
Nick Mortimore recently took a trip to the Hippodrome to see compelling contemporary love story Ali and Ava. Nick shares some thoughts on the film and his trip to the cinema.
This month’s Hippodrome blog is a guest entry by Nick Mortimore, a care-worker and ex-DJ. We were keen to hear Nick’s take on his visit to the Hippodrome to watch the film ‘Ali and Ava’ in which music plays a central part. This tender and naturalistic British drama is directed by Clio Barnard and stars Claire Rushbrook (‘Secrets and Lies’) and Adeel Akhtar (‘Four Lions’, ‘Killing Eve’). ‘Ali and Ava’ was nominated in the 2022 BAFTAs for Outstanding British Film of the Year and Best Leading Actor (Adeel Akhtar), and screened at the Hippodrome in April 2022 with a pre-recorded Q&A featuring the film’s director, producer and lead actors.
"I was somewhat surprised to be approached to write a review of ‘Ali & Ava’ as it’s my wife who’s the film buff in our house - I’m obsessed with music. My name is Nick Mortimore and I’m a care worker and erstwhile reggae DJ but always happy to go to the pictures, especially to the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness as it’s beautiful and charming and after the couple of years we’ve all endured, I realised how much I’d missed it.
I love cinema architecture and the Hippodrome is Scotland’s oldest cinema (1912) and has been beautifully restored. Once a year it puts on a silent film festival where they approach musicians to write original or improvised scores to be performed live to brilliantly curated silent films. It's a beloved venue and I always find myself wondering how many people are in the cinema because their parents fell in love there - but I’m a bit of an old romantic.
So it was lovely to watch a real love story. ‘Ali & Ava’ tells the tale of two people from very different backgrounds brilliantly played by Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook. They meet at a time when they are both very lonely and rather trapped, but bond over their shared love of Sofia, a young girl in both their lives. Ava is white, single with four grown children and a complicated love life, which we learn about gradually through the film. She works as a classroom assistant but is also a very willing (young) granny helping to look after five grandkids. Ali is Asian, a landlord who looks out for his tenants, and lives with his wife in what he jokes is a ‘flat share’ – they’re separated and keeping it from the rest of his close-knit family who live next door.
Music is hugely important in the film and is used in many ways, always present as another character in the scene rather than as a film score to create a mood. It also represents the personalities of the characters. When they first meet, Ali asks Ava what music she likes and, being from an Irish background, she tells him Country and Folk. He’s laughingly horrified and gives her a list of genres she should have picked. We see him throughout the film listening to dance music, often alone on headphones and the beat of the rhythm matched to his moves and the dance of his fingers tells us a lot about him, in a way no words could.
In one of my favourite scenes, as Ali is about to drop Ava off in the rough part of Bradford where she lives and which is normally a no-go area for him, they encounter a gang of kids who throw stones at his car. It’s a volatile situation which could turn nasty, but Ali ramps up the car stereo and within seconds has taken away all the danger and we’ve got a car full of kids rocking to a track by local boy MC Innes, a perfect choice of music. It took me longer to locate that track than write this article but I just had to know. It’s not on Spotify but search on YouTube and it’s the first thing to come up, track 4.
The way music becomes a shared language between Ali and Ava gives the audience a sense that the wonderful growing tenderness and intimacy will be enough to surmount the problems they’re going to face and you’re behind them every step of the way.
It’s the first film I’ve seen by director Clio Barnard but I loved its understated warmth and humanity and it put me in mind of Ken Loach and the freedom he gives his actors.
There was a recorded Q&A after the film with Clio Barnard, Tracy O’Riordan (the film’s producer) and the two leads. Zoom has been a great way of connecting us in the last couple of years, but it does sadly have its limitations. With each person in a separate space, there was a lack of connection and the natural back and forth that comes from being together, which resulted in it being a little stifled and dry. However, it certainly didn’t detract from how much I loved ‘Ali & Ava’. I also won an album in the raffle (sponsored by the British Film Institute, Film Audience Network) before the film by a Ghanaian band Onipa that was featured on the soundtrack, so I think I’ve managed to hunt down pretty much every track played now and will be listening to them with fond memories of a night at the Hippodrome."