Unsubtle from the get-go, Ken Loach’s interracial love story opens with sixth-former Tahara (Shabana Bakhsh) defiantly embracing her multiple identities before her entire class: “I’m a Glaswegian Pakistani teenage woman of Muslim descent who supports Glasgow Rangers in a Catholic school.” When bullies give her hell for her mouthiness, Yasmin’s dreamy brother, DJ and aspiring club owner Casim (Atta Yaqub), steps in—and locks eyes with his sister’s pretty music teacher Roisin (Eva Birthistle). This romance between a Scottish Muslim and an Irish Catholic ignites slowly, sweetly, and with rather more exposed skin than you’d expect from Loach.
But once Roisin and Casim go public, almost everyone else is revealed as a bigot: Disowned for his traitorous relationship with a white non-Muslim, Casim scraps an arranged marriage with a cousin who’s being imported from Pakistan. A Fond Kiss (named for a Robert Burns ballad) assigns complementary prejudices to Roisin’s side—and Loach plainly relishes the effortless task of attacking the Catholic establishment for its bonkers hypocrisy. Roisin is chastised for playing Burns during Mass (“a song written by a well-known drunken fornicator!”), and her priest refuses to renew her teaching certificate because of her apparent willingness to shack up with “any Tom, Dick, or Mohammed.” Despite the agreeable lead performances, it’s one of Loach’s more forgettable films. Screenwriter Paul Laverty, a regular Loach collaborator, says he was inspired to write the film after September 11, but the political dimension is perfunctory and muted. Still, even at its most rigged, there’s always just enough to admire in the Loach model—a stacked-deck schema mitigated with assiduous empathy, a touch of humor, and much recognizable human behavior.