Would you like coffee?” Clio Barnard asks. “Is goat’s milk OK?” Ooh, that sounds exciting, I say. “There’s oat milk, too.” Barnard is scouring the fridge. “We’ve even got regular cow milk.” It’s early morning when I arrive at her house. Though, as she explains repeatedly, it’s not her house – she’s just renting it while working in London and Essex. It reminds me of Ali & Ava, her lovely new film. Every time Ali tells his friends that Ava is a teacher, she corrects him with “teaching assistant”. Details are important to Barnard.
“Right, would you like some breakfast?” She couldn’t be a warmer host. Then we sit down to talk, and suddenly she’s a bag of nerves. She loses her words, apologises for going blank, and looks to her producer Tracy O’Riordan for support. She eyes my recorder enviously. “I’d much rather be the person with the tape machine on the table asking you questions.” She pauses. “I’m quite a shy person, Simon.”
Barnard is also one of Britain’s most talented and original directors, largely responsible for putting Bradford on the movie map. All four of her films have been set in Yorkshire, three in Bradford. On the surface, the Bradford films are very different. The Arbor is an experimental docudrama about the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar (best known for Rita, Sue and Bob Too), who grew up on a tough estate, mothered three children with three fathers by her early 20s, was undone by addiction, and died of a brain haemorrhage at 29. The Selfish Giant, loosely based on the Oscar Wilde short story, focuses on two boys excluded from school who set themselves up as scrap dealers selling to a ruthless merchant.
Ali & Ava is a feelgood love story about a couple (wonderfully played by Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook) who…