Empire (UK)




DIRECTOR Shekhar Kapur

CAST Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Emma Thompson, Oliver Chris

PLOT Oncologist Kazim (Latif) decides to have an ‘assisted’ marriage, one set up by his parents, and his childhood friend and neighbour-turneddocu­mentarian Zoe (James) decides to film his odyssey with all its complicati­ons.

ARRANGED MARRIAGE, OR assisted marriage as it’s now known, is a tricky subject to build a very traditiona­l romcom around. The rules of the genre almost demand a whirlwind love affair in defiance of either society or fate, and a relationsh­ip supported by one’s parents is not conducive to that. That hasn’t deterred Shekhar Kapur and screenwrit­er Jemima Khan from this spin on the subject, but perhaps it should have done.

The problem is that the grammar of the romcom demands an outcome that the story and characters don’t really support. Commitment­phobic documentar­ian Zoe (Lily James) is casting about for her next subject when she learns that her friend Kazim (Shazad Latif ) has decided to pursue an assisted marriage and settle down like his parents. She persuades him to let her film the quest, but her personal and philosophi­cal misgivings threaten both her project and his.

Kapur and Khan have gone to some lengths to point out the virtues of assisted marriage and the shortcomin­gs of the Western romantic marriage — the disparity in divorce rates is striking — but such cultural sensitivit­y is undermined in the film’s entire thrust towards a romance between the two people on the poster, which it does not entirely earn. Latif, so good in Star Trek: Discovery, is a likeable, assertive presence as Kaz, and displays a facility for light comedy with a sharp point — as when reminding Zoe and her mum Cath (Emma Thompson) that he has to get to the airport early to be ready for ‘random’ searches. James is less sympatheti­c but convincing­ly torn, at least, between personal and profession­al loyalties. The problem is that they get relatively little time together, and even less time alone together, so any potential romance has to rely heavily on a backstory of childhood friendship and awkward first kisses, and a few steady glances.

Shabana Azmi is wonderful as Kazim’s mum Aisha, composed and warm for the most part but stern when required, and Sajal Ali makes a convincing­ly appealing bride-to-be for Kazim as Maymouna. Surprising­ly, Thompson is less good as Cath. Perhaps we should blame the fact that it’s an odd role: Cath is mad about her neighbours and loves sharing their food, dress and celebratio­ns, but also flings around insensitiv­e language and (at least) microaggre­ssions on a regular basis. It’s perhaps worthwhile to show how gross all these casual comments are, but coming from a character who we otherwise seem to be meant to like, it’s discombobu­lating. Maybe that’s the point.

Kapur shoots it all glowingly but not too glossily, in a recognisab­ly middle-class London rather than Richard Curtis’ millionair­e version, and in Lahore. But the film drags as it trudges through the business of arranging a wedding that the audience can’t quite believe in, and never delivers on the romance, assisted or not. There’s probably a moving character piece to be made about this kind of match, but this never quite gets there.


A likeable cast and colourful depiction of Pakistani (and Pakistani-british) culture makes this look warm and inviting, but the central romance can’t hold our attention as it should.

 ?? ?? Meet cute? Childhood friends Kazim (Shazad Latif) and Zoe (Lily James).
Meet cute? Childhood friends Kazim (Shazad Latif) and Zoe (Lily James).
 ?? ?? From top: Mothers in arms (Shabana Azmi, Emma Thompson); Matchmaker Mo (Asim Chaudhry); Bride Maymouna (Sajal Ali).
From top: Mothers in arms (Shabana Azmi, Emma Thompson); Matchmaker Mo (Asim Chaudhry); Bride Maymouna (Sajal Ali).

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