Bracket the fact that it's an adaptation of Monica Ali's great big treat of a 2003 novel about displacement and feminine emancipation, and British director Sarah Gavron's tale of a young Bangladeshi woman unwillingly transplanted to London's East End is absorbing enough, moving enough, and visually attractive enough to provide a perfectly acceptable night out at the movies. Schooled in silent endurance, Nazneen is estranged from her rural home, beloved sister, and much older bear of a husband. As the rapidly changing post-9/11 racial politics of England take shape around her dingy housing estate, Nazneen tries to accept her fate — until she meets a handsome young convert to radical Islam (Christopher Simpson) who rocks her world at every level. With a limited budget, Gavron had no choice but to prune Ali's huge cast of Dickensian supporting characters; in the process, she's also replaced the novel's teeming vitality and tragicomic drive with a prettified lyricism that drags the story down. As Nazneen, the exquisite Indian actress Tannishtha Chatterjee is too inert to express the untapped reserves of strength, passion, and defiance that will transform this quiescent village girl — which leaves the excellent Indian actor Satish Kaushik, as her Micawberish husband, to carry the weight of the difficult balance between tradition and modernity that lies at the heart of every great migrant journey of the soul.
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