I Am Hannah review – A sensitive and emotional portrayal of motherhood

This article was originally published on thenationalstudent.com on 6th August 2019.

The version of London that Hannah (Gemma Chan) lives in is a lonely one. Despite the size of the city, through Hannah’s eyes, we never see anyone up close. 

I Am Hannah follows its titular protagonist through the trials and tribulations of dating, the pressure to have kids, and being single in your 30s. She has plenty of one-to-one interactions throughout the film, but we never see her in a group. Her world is insular – we see her in her small, one-bed flat, at her desk at work, an anonymous face in a crowded tube car. Shaky handheld camerawork emphasises this inward-looking, personal effect. However, children seem to be everywhere in this version of London. Hannah’s office building is just down the street from a primary school and we see more of its pupils than Hannah’s co-workers. 

All three of the TV films in this anthology were developed with their lead actor: “It’s a democratic process,” said director Dominic Savage at a recent roundtable event. “This is about the person you want to work with and the story you want to tell together.” Gemma Chan was keen to tell a story centring around female fertility, as she felt there weren’t any stories that explored this theme on-screen.

Savage says: “It’s a lovely way of creating a piece with an actor… You’re completely in cahoots.” When you’re on the shoot, “you’re still writing, you’re still creating… We know what we want to achieve, but we don’t quite know the way we’re going to achieve it, and that’s rather wonderful.”

Image credit: Channel 4

Space remains vital to characterisation throughout. Over the course of the episode, Hannah meets three different men through a dating app in a series of four encounters. Her first two dates are in a park, in wide open spaces. The third date occurs in a bar. The fourth meeting she has with a prospective partner is in her flat. The spaces get smaller and more enclosed as Hannah retreats into herself. “I’m terrified of fucking it up,” she says at one point.

She returns to the park towards the end of the film after she receives some difficult news. There is a wide shot of the empty green space around her; she is alone, it is cloudy. This contrasts with the final scene of the film; Hannah walks into the sunshine with the sound of children playing in the background. In this shot, she is still a solitary figure, but as sunlight douses her face it’s evident that she knows this part of life needs to be done alone; she has made her peace with it. 

Gemma Chan is right – this is a topic that we don’t see enough on TV or in pop culture more generally. Motherhood is not a straightforward issue for many women, and yet we are taught to believe that it is. We have moved on from “you must have children” to “you can have children if you want,” but what if you don’t know what you want? What if want you want doesn’t align with what your body is capable of doing? I Am Hannah explores this complicated topic deftly and sensitively and it’s refreshing to see this broadcast on mainstream national television.

I Am Hannah airs on Channel 4 on Tuesday 6th August. 

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