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  • TBC
  • 2005
  • 86 mins

Love + Hate

Love + Hate


Dominic Savage's feature debut is a tragic teen romance set in a segregated town in northern England


As sure as 1+1=2, the presence of a plus-sign in a film's title has come to guarantee a plot about young lovers, divided communities and tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Love + Hate, the feature debut of award-winning television director Dominic Savage, proves no exception, but unlike the post-modern pizzazz of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996) or the classic romanticism of Kevin Reynolds' Tristan + Isolde (2006), it is a contemporary race drama set against the unofficial apartheid of an Anytown in northern England.

A 17-year-old virginal Muslim girl named Naseema (Awan) begins a job at a wallpaper store, where she works alongside sexually confident white girl Michelle (Burley) and Adam (Hudson), a brooding white boy raised to despise 'Pakis'. Despite Adam's initial reluctance even to acknowledge Naseema's existence, their mutual attraction gradually blooms into a secret romance, and for the first time Adam questions the racism of his family, his friends and himself. Meanwhile, as a one-night stand between Michelle and Naseema's older brother Yousif (Zahir) becomes something altogether more serious, Yousif too must address his conflicting allegiances to faith, family and feeling.

If the cultural divide between Britain's Muslims and non-Muslims has already been explored in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), East Is East (1999) and Ae Fond Kiss (2004), at least Love + Hate avoids some of the now over-familiar conventions established in those films. Here Naseema's cab-driving father (played by Mohamed Rafique), far from being a blustering patriarchal dinosaur, is a muted figure, too marginalised to be touched by cliché. It looks as though the father's traditional role is to be taken over by his older son, the hypocritical Yousif, but his potential for domineering anger never quite reaches its expected fulfilment, and in the end it is left instead to Michelle's single white father (Andrews) to explode in rage.

There is much fine acting in Love + Hate, including an impressive debut from Awan, but without doubt it is Andrews who quietly steals the film. In a remarkably physical performance, his whole body can be seen to stiffen with discomfort every time Yousif enters the staffroom of their workplace, and yet at the same time he attempts, unlike his other white colleagues, to overcome his prejudice and engage with Yousif, so that he comes to embody all the film's tensions - at least, that is, until the point where he can no longer contain them. Yousif too, while negotiating sex with Michelle in the front of his parked car, proposes that they both "meet in the middle", a phrase whose literal meaning is accompanied by obvious symbolic connotations; but by the end it has become clear that even he will only go so far to foster relations between the races.

In a film where only the male characters ever really seem conflicted, the weakest link is Adam. He may be the only one who manages to break the mould of his environment and his mindset, but this transformation, while necessary for the plot, makes little sense at the level of character, and is no more credible than Naseema's interest in him. His stand-offish rudeness, his openly discriminatory attitudes and his inability to articulate himself hardly recommend him as a contender for the heart of a bright young Muslim woman, and viewers may find themselves having a lot more difficulty embracing Adam's character than Naseema herself appears to. Still, young love, eh?

On the + side, the clear mismatch between Adam and Naseema makes the apparently optimistic ending play back in the mind more bitter-sweetly, as the viewer is left to ponder what sort of future awaits the eloping pair further down the line; and there is something appealingly bleak in the film's suggestion that the only two ways in which the town's racial tensions can be resolved are through violence or escape.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Ryan Leslie, Dean Andrews, Samina Awan, Thomas Hudson, Wasim Zakir, Nichola Burley
  • Director: Dominic Savage
  • Screen Writer: Dominic Savage
  • Producer: Neris Thomas
  • Photographer: Barry Ackroyd
  • Composer: Rupert Gregson-Williams

In a nutshell

An assured feature debut for Savage, even if the subplots are far more compelling than the central 'Romeo and Juliet' relationship.

by Anton Bitel

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