It’s easy to bristle at the thought of an actor referring to something they’ve done in their profession as ‘brave’, unless of course it’s Tom Cruise strapping himself to the side of an Airbus A400m. Four times.
But what Vicky Knight has achieved on screen is something even Cruise would doff his Ray-Bans for.
Knight plays Jade, a young, single mother and victim of a vicious acid attack, who we catch up with as she leaves hospital after months of rest and multiple surgeries.
Slowly coming to terms with her scarred body and face, and with her shoplifting mother offering minimal emotional support, it’s down to Jade’s best mate Shami (Rebecca Stone) and her new boyfriend (who Jade was flirting with before the attack) to lift her spirits by taking her out clubbing and on double dates.
Sadly, Jade’s scars run much deeper than they appear. Broken by the attack, her efforts to put her life back together are undermined by her loss of self confidence and inability to identify, or at least fit in with the 20-somethings around her. Watching her best friend live the life she can no longer have only adds to the pain.
What makes Dirty God so interesting is the refusal of Dutch co-writer and director Sacha Polak (making her English language debut here) to take Jade on an obvious journey of redemption.
Instead we see her struggle with the practicalities of life and love, or lack of it. The best she can hope for is acceptance of herself before picking up the pieces and making something of what’s left.
Polak’s depiction of a gritty London, from estates to call centres, is remarkably accurate, equally as impressive as her clear understanding of what an acid attack victim goes through as they attempt to recover from their ordeal.
Full-time nurse and debutant actress Knight brings a level of sincerity to the role that’s afforded by the improvisational approach, and her own experiences (Knight was badly hurt in a house fire as a child, and uses her own scars as the basis for building this character). Knight bravely, and both figuratively and quite literally, bares herself for the role.
Jade isn’t always a particularly likeable character, and she certainly doesn’t make the right decisions. Yet Knight is, and puts so much of herself into the role, that it’s hard not to remain sympathetic.
The chemistry with Stone and Robinson adds to the sincerity, making Dirty God a compelling film that’s not always easy to watch.