AISHA Review: Quietly Powerful Drama with Mesmerizing Central Performance

Letitia Wright and Josh O'Connor star in director Frank Berry's piercing, timely new drama.

Contributing Writer
AISHA Review: Quietly Powerful Drama with Mesmerizing Central Performance

Having premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2022, Frank Berry’s Aisha was insanely relevant back then -- and it still is, just as the film hits U.S, theaters.

The titular Aisha (Letitia Wright) is a young Nigerian woman who has been staying at a detention center in Dublin for some time while seeking asylum in Ireland. She fled her home country after the attack that left her father and brother dead, and now she is stuck in a weird bureaucratic limbo of the system that seems to be setting her -– and other asylum seekers -- up for failure by default. In addition to the trauma of her past, Aisha is forced to deal with small injustices on the daily basis, as well as with people just generally being inconsiderate.

In all of these instances, Aisha is painfully aware she is often being treated like crap, and reciprocates with a quiet, determined dignity, bottling up her emotions that are bound to explode at some point. A new guard named Conor (Josh O'Connor) arrives at the center, and as he shows her kindness by allowing her access to a microwave to heat up her food, the two strike a tentative, gentle friendship. Just before their unexpected connection can morph into something more, Aisha gets relocated to another shelter across the country, and her case gets even more complicated than before.

There is a great tradition of socially conscious and deeply humanistic films, and Irish director Frank Berry and his filmography, even before Aisha, fit right in. His previous features, I Used to Live Here (2014) and Michael Inside (2017), tackled such topics as suicide awareness and prison experience, while his latest film takes on the cruelty of the Direct Provision system for asylum seekers and the grotesqueness of bureaucracy.

The closest reference here would probably be another festival hit, Ben Sharrock’s film with a telling name Limbo (2020), which also centered around a character waiting for the leave to remain in the country. This is definitely a familiar story, which only makes it hit harder as the authors emphasize on the routine nature of their heroine’s struggles. What makes Aisha stand out among similar titles is that Berry isn’t prone to dramatics and avoids dwelling on the more gruesome social aspects of the narrative, instead focusing on the intricacies of human interactions.

The film’s aesthetics are decidedly understated, and the cinematography by Tom Comerford (Herself, Rose Plays Julie, The Hole in the Ground) sticks to observational/ cinéma verité style, keeping a sort of respectful distance from the characters, even in the most emotionally poignant moments. Letitia Wright is an aesthetic treasure in her own right, as her performance as Aisha is what keeps Berry’s film gripping and tense even when nothing major seems to be happening. Josh O’Connor (of God’s Own Country and most recently, Challengers), despite being somewhat relegated to the sidelines, is also captivating as a vulnerable man with his own troubled past. 

The rapport their characters build is an aspect that clearly inspires the authors no less than the tough social agenda. The need for human connection is born out of their traumatic experiences, which seems to be another major theme here.

Like many survivors, Aisha is retraumatized again and again, as everyone wants her to recount what happened to her in detail, “to put them in the room” – not in order to really understand her, but to basically make her more relatable. “It’s not a story”, she quietly challenges in one of the most powerful episodes; too bad, people tend to only truly take traumas seriously when they are shouted about.

The film is now playing in select U.S. theaters and is also available On Demand, via Samuel Goldwyn Films. Visit the official site for more information. 


  • Frank Berry
  • Frank Berry
  • Letitia Wright
  • Josh O'Connor
  • Lorcan Cranitch
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Frank BerryJosh O'ConnorLetitia WrightLorcan CranitchDrama

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