Nazanin Review: A love story about how a united family can overcome the most appalling difficulties

It is now exactly a year since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released from her six-year detention in Iran and we all know the relatively happy ending to her and her family’s ordeal. However, what we certainly do not know is how exactly they and their loved ones have overcome, suffered and endured the psychological torture of indefinite containment.

Channel 4’s new documentary, Nazanin, vividly conveys that tension in a way that’s raw and almost unbearable at times, but watch it because we want to “be there” as it dissipates. Because filmmaker Darius Bazargan and his team have spent so much time filming with Nazanin’s family and her tirelessly struggling husband Richard, as well as being able to use previously unreleased smartphone video footage of Nazanin herself, it’s almost like we’re there.

This is a very intimate piece of storytelling, almost entirely through the words of the family, with Richard always being unscripted and calm and uncomplicated. We are at their home as Richard and, future daughter Gabriella, taking the calls from prison or house arrest in Iran. We share the frustration at the Zoom call with UK ministers. We feel the cold and the abdominal cramps as he sleeps outside the Iranian Embassy and Foreign Office on a hunger strike in a six-year struggle for his right to a family life. We share the heartache when Nazanin says she cannot continue, or reveals that she has been arrested again by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and is told before a “trial” that she had better pack a bag because she is obviously coming back Jail. Nazanin kept a kind of audio diary, and today we hear recordings that reflect her private thoughts at the time.

“I’m a lonely mom these days,” she says. “I was left behind while the outside floated by… Fears filled my mind. Loneliness is too often my friend and doubt my implacable enemy. What if they never let me go? My past will laugh. Mourn only my presence, and hope on the horizon, hard to see.”

This film is above all a love story, a testament to how the strength of a family united in love can overcome the most appalling difficulties.

Both the film and contemporary reporting seem to have little doubt that Nazanin’s imprisonment was not for espionage or even geopolitics, but a simple matter of money, and this becomes increasingly clear as Richard speaks to journalists and officials about the plight of Nazanin and the other dual nationality peoples being held hostage in Iran. As early as the 1970s, the Shah of Iran, a friend of the West in the way the ayatollahs are enemies today, placed a sizeable order with the UK for tanks for its army. After the Iranian revolution, the British still had £400 million in Iranian money, and Tehran wanted it back. The UK refused on grounds of international sanctions and because the policy was not to ransom hostages. Only when Jeremy Hunt was Secretary of State – he has a cameo role in the film – was the money repaid and Nazanin released. It really was that easy.

Hunt, the fifth secretary of state Richard has dealt with, comes off relatively well. Boris Johnson doesn’t, and no one should ever forget the moment when he made a mistake and told a Commons committee in 2017 that Nazanin was “just teaching people journalism, as I understand it, at the very frontier”. “What the hell were you doing just now?” Richard asks from the back seat of a cab on the way to another unsuccessful meeting with our diplomats. All Gabriella got was a stuffed animal modeled after Downing Street cat Larry, and Johnson’s unforgivable remark was gleefully taken by the Iranians as confirmation that she was a spy.

Still, Richard is perfectly clear that for all his whining about the Brits, they’re “not the main bastards here,” and we have to agree. But change is certainly coming, and these days it’s the theocrats in Tehran who are feeling the heat and some of the same tensions about their own future that Nazanin endured. It feels pre-revolutionary. As protesters in Iran chant, in a slogan that may have been inspired by Nazanin himself: Woman, Life, Freedom. Nazanin Review: A love story about how a united family can overcome the most appalling difficulties

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