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Aisha ★★★★



Director: Frank Berry

CastLetitia Wright, Josh O’Connor

Release17th November 2022 (UK)

Letitia Wright gives a sensitive, layered performance as the titular Aisha, a young Nigerian woman fleeing violence and trying to navigate life within Ireland’s controversial Direct Provision system. Written and directed by Frank Berry, Aisha delivers a tender yet blistering insight into the reality of asylum seekers forced into lives of perpetual limbo.

Introduced as an emergency measure in 1999, the Direct Provision system aims to provide basic needs to individuals awaiting decisions on their applications for international protection. We first meet Aisha in a hostel run by a for-profit enterprise of private contractors. Despite recognising her, the security guard refuses to release her mail without identification, causing her to miss her bus to work as she angrily retrieves it. Later that day, she’s reminded that having food of her choice heated in the microwave is a privilege she’s not entitled to – she can have only what is provided by the hostel. It’s understandable that Aisha is sceptical of new security guard Conor (Josh O’Connor) and his offer to sneak her into the kitchen to heat her food late at night. Yet from an initial cautiousness, a profound connection slowly and beautifully blooms between the pair.

Letitia Wright and Josh O'Connor in Aisha

As Aisha, Wright is just as exceptional as you’d expect her to be, akin to her stirring depiction of activist Altheia Jones-LeCointe in the critically acclaimed ‘Mangrove’ entry of Small Axe. In Aisha, Wright channels a stillness and determination to hold onto dignity in an environment designed to deny her personhood entirely. With Berry’s writing, the film balances being a drama about critiquing a system but doesn’t lose the main character in the story. It also seamlessly weaves in accounts of real-life applicants discussing their experiences. Many of the women featured speak of the communities they form as homes away from home, as well as the coldness with which they are extracted and moved on. Wright blends effortlessly with these women, colouring Aisha with moments of pain, joy, and humour, each of these emotions felt vividly by the viewer.

As Conor, Josh O’Connor proves to be a revelation. His portrayal of Prince Charles in The Crown bagged him an Emmy win. Yet, with his sweet, often unspoken fragility, Conor is such a departure from the ever-petulant now-King, it’s a wonder O’Connor has played them both. The chemistry shared between Wright and O’Connor palpably lights up the screen – even as a sense of foreboding hangs in the air – and there’s a real sense that both actors deeply understand their characters.

A simple yet highly effective indictment of government systems, Aisha is as understated as its namesake. A deeply important story that is easily overlooked but brimming with quiet power; it won’t be Letitia Wright’s most-talked about role of 2022 – especially when a certain MCU film is released in the coming weeks. But it’s a performance that shouldn’t be missed.

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