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Brick Lane Reviews

Sarah Gavron's earnest adaptation of Monica Ali's sprawling novel about a naïve Bangladeshi girl whose arranged marriage takes her far from home is restrained and decorous to a fault. Nazneen and her sister, Hasina, are born into a tiny Muslim village community where the rhythms of life have remained unchanged for generations. But Nazneen's own life changes abruptly after her mother's suicide: Her widowed father arranges the 17-year-old's marriage to a much older man who lives in London. Nazneen's (Tannishta Chatterjee) new home is the grandly named Elgood Park Estate, a gloomy housing project in London's East End, and her new husband, Chanu Ahmed (Satish Kaushik), is a fat, pompous ass. Though the neighborhood is full of South Asian immigrants, the devout, deferential Nazneen – raised to submit to fate and her husband's authority – stays close to home and lives for letters from her high-spirited sister (Zafreen), who ran away from home to marry a man she loved. Even after Nazneen bears Chanu two daughters, rebellious Shahana (Naeema Begum) and compliant Bibi (Lana Rahman), she continues to dress like a proper village girl and keep to herself. But she's eventually befriended by outspoken neighbor Razia (Harvey Virdi), whose westernized ways shock the sheltered Nazneen. Razia has short hair, smokes, wears pants and lets her children dress and behave like their English peers, but she comes to Nazneen's rescue when Chanu, feeling slighted when he isn't promoted, impulsively quits his job. Razia lends Nazneen a sewing machine and helps her get piecework that keeps the family afloat when Chanu's pie-in-the-sky business ventures come to naught. Razia is also inadvertently responsible for Nazneen's dangerous affair with the much-younger Karim (Christopher Simpson): They meet because Karim is the liaison between his uncle's factory and the home-based seamstresses he employs. Nazneen's world begins to come apart when Chanu decides the family should move back to Bangladesh: Her daughters are distraught at the thought of leaving England, and Karim, increasingly devoted to radical Muslim politics, is pressuring her to divorce Chanu and marry him. Screenwriters Abi Morgan and Laura Jones pare Nazneen's story to its bare bones, losing most of the novel's first half and focusing on a single year – 2001 – when history intrudes on Nazneen's personal journey to self-determination. Unfortunately, her character is flattened in the process, which in turn highlights the narrative's weaknesses. The novel is told entirely through Nazneen's eyes: Her changing perceptions shape Ali's portrait of a family within a community buffeted by international political and social trends. Stripped of a mediating point of view, the film is just a series of pretty pictures and awkwardly connected incidents.