Ali & Ava is a lovely, charming surprise. It's the latest drama written and directed by Clio Barnard, who's received much international acclaim for her powerful, often shatteringly bleak films set in Yorkshire, in northern England. These earlier works—including The Arbor, a boldly experimental portrait of the late playwright Andrea Dunbar, and The Selfish Giant, a tale of childhood friendship—are all tragedies of a kind, marked by poverty, bigotry, addiction and abuse.
Some of those elements appear in Ali & Ava, which takes place in Bradford, a city in West Yorkshire, and follows two people who've seen their share of hardships. Ali, played by Adeel Akhtar, is a Pakistani immigrant who experiences plenty of day-to-day racism, often from white children who like to throw rocks at his car. Ava, played by Claire Rushbrook, is an Irish-born woman with four children and several grandchildren, plus a history of physical and emotional abuse by her recently deceased husband.