It is all too apt that Ayub Khan-Din began his career as a bit-player in Stephen Frears’ seminal British drama My Beautiful Launderette, what with that film’s focus on the culture clash of Asians growing up in Britain. Khan-Din’s subsequent screenplays for smash hit East is East and acclaimed follow-up West is West depict a similar struggle, and this time, returns with an adaptation of Bill Naughton’s play All in Good Time. While the theme might start feeling well-harvested by now, this is a unique, unconventional film of its type, enticing even when it doesn’t always work.
Atul (Reece Ritchie) and Vina (Amara Karan) are a young Asian British couple growing up in Bolton. We meet them at their wedding, and while it should be the happiest day of their lives, their meddling, more traditionally Indian families are only making things harder. The couple struggles to get any “quiet time” together, and as the pressure mounts from both sides for them to copulate, this only pushes them further apart.
Like Khan-Din’s previous works, All in Good Time does well to integrate itself effortlessly into the homogeny of British cinema by presenting us with two likable protagonists who are made personable to a much larger audience because they are assimilated – at least in part – into the British mainstream. Rejecting the traditionalist notions of their respective families, they are as a result relatable to a variety of potential viewers, because the focus is only as much on race and national identity as it is on the everyday travails of a couple navigating the sexual landscape.
With the mounting pressure, Atul finds himself unable to perform for his wife, sending the film into an unexpected but welcome tailspin, exploring the nature of masculinity, and particularly how this is ascertained in Indian culture. A grand focus is placed on Atul’s sexual potency (or lack thereof) – not that it isn’t in British culture – and a war of sorts emerges between him and his overbearing father, Eeshwar (Harish Patel). On the surface it refers only to petulant put-downs and a basic lack of respect, but it is a failure in communication which needs to be resolved before Atul’s marriage can get back on track. His mind is not in a healthy place, and therefore, neither is his body. While it would have been more interesting had the film delved deeper into the mature, psychological machinations of an impotent man, what we get is a compromise; a serio-comic treatment which will likely keep both camps happy enough.
There is one major fly in the story’s ointment, though; the persistent use of the father as a marital foil quickly becomes tiresome and exhausted past the first act, but is forcibly employed plenty beyond this, as a comic and dramatic fallback which doesn’t really work. He is a rather vile, possibly alcoholic, unaware, maladjusted man who only garners sympathy with the onset of an out-of-nowhere piece of twisty exposition at the end of reel two. It isn’t expanded on very much, leaving one mystified about exactly what it means, though we can make just enough of an inference to get by.
The key strength of this film is the dynamic of the two leads; Ritchie plays his character as a bit of a dullard, but then that is sort of necessary, and by comparison, the luminous Karan comes off as highly appealing and essentially the true protagonist. The resolution to their sexual dismay is a little simplistic, mind, but it is at least an efficient A-to-B workaround. Surprisingly, while things end up mostly happy, this one concludes on an unexpected sombre note, rather than a cheery drive into the sunset or a knowing Bollywood dance number. We know that growing up has taken place, but it is not without leaving some pain behind also.
Not quite the feel-good farce you might expect, this is an uneven but sober work about the pragmatic nature of relationships.
All in Good Time is out in UK cinemas now.