Those beliefs are sorely tested when he loses an expected promotion to a (white) colleague. His beliefs about family are likewise shaken when Nazneen - who has provided her husband with a pair of daughters, 14 and 10 - falls for a handsome, bright-eyed young British Bangladeshi. Karim (Christopher Simpson) shows up with a pile of designer jeans knockoffs for Nazneen to sew - it's a way for her to make extra money - and stays, during the course of subsequent visits, for tea, for talk.
The timidity and resignation with which Nazneen has led her life begin to be replaced by something else - passion, excitement, the dreams of another sort of existence, one less about acceptance and obligation, and more about, yes, love. There's a wonderful moment when Karim stops by Nazneen's drab council house apartment: Although there has been no physical contact, there's no doubt what's going through their minds. As Karim gets set to leave, closing the door behind him, he presses his hand flat against its pebbled glass. From the inside, she places her hand against the glass, too, their fingers splayed out together, but not touching.
With a younger sister left behind in Bangladesh, with her husband's fussy views about education and manners, work and parenting, and with the shock and horror of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 - a day that throws the Muslim community of East London into a panic, and then into paranoia - Nazneen faces a mounting personal crisis.
Her elder daughter Shahana (Naeema Begum) isn't any help, either, as she goes through the throes of adolescence - an emotional buffeting compounded by what she senses is going on with her mother and this other man.
The performances in Brick Lane are all strong - Chatterjee's is a wonder of soulful restraint - and the story is heartbreaking, really. There have been complaints from fans of Ali's book that Gavron and her scriptwriters have pared the novel down too far - losing a richness of character, scale and detail in the process.
But while the film pivots around Nazneen, perhaps at the expense of other characters, it doesn't sell her short. This is a rich, revealing and elegant portrait, and one well worth spending time with.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.