Polite Society

4 stars

Glasgow Film Festival comes to a close for 2023 with this delightful British comedy from first-time feature writer-director Nida Manzoor. With a tone that’s just on the right side of silly and fantastical, but dramatic when it needs to be, it’s a breath of fresh air that’s bound to leave audiences cheering.

Student Ria (Priya Kansara) dreams of becoming a stuntwoman, something that’s far from encouraged in her Pakistani upbringing.

Meanwhile her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) is struggling with her career path as an artist and decides she might be happier getting married. But when Ria begins to suspect Lena’s future mother-in-law is up to no good, she sets out with her classmates to investigate in a series of heist-style set pieces that audiences will be familiar with, but which are nonetheless highly entertaining.

It’s rare enough to encounter an Asian-led action comedy, certainly from British filmmakers, but for one to be executed this successfully feels like nothing short of a miracle.

It’s the kind of thing that only comes along every few years, demonstrating that we’re perfectly capable of stepping away from the standard fare of social realism and Judi Dench dramas and making good genre cinema in this country, as pioneered by the likes of Edgar Wright.

Not that Polite Society is necessarily a great action movie – this isn’t The Matrix, although there are one or two nice flourishes – and it probably doesn’t have the budget to even try to be.

It’s the vitality and sheer surprise value of the fight scenes rather than any elaborate choreography where the true joy is to be found – Asian women in flowing gowns and headdresses knocking seven bells out of each other is a sight we didn’t know we were missing on our cinema screens.

But holding it all together even more than that is a roster of hugely engaging characters, some of whom may occasionally tend towards the cartoony, which is fine when you need your baddies to emerge in the third act.

But it’s Ria and Lena themselves – who spend much of their time trading snappy sisterly insults – that steal the show, their interactions with family, friends and each other proving sparky and hilarious.

Kansara has serious star potential, showcasing both comedic and action chops, and it’s got to be hoped we get to see a lot more from her and Manzoor in the years to come.


Paul is a freelance film critic