A young working class woman with a baby and few job prospects comes to terms with disfiguring injuries in “Dirty God,” a compelling drama about self-image, dashed dreams and the growing up that might be on the other side of despair.
This engrossing if not entirely satisfying drama is built around a marvelous turn by Vicky Knight, an actress who, thanks to a childhood tragedy, didn’t have to rely on makeup to get into character. She’s lived at least some of this, and Knight lets us see the hurt at the cruelty and the disappointment that comes with how life closes in around you, thanks to scars like this.
Something happened to Jade, something that left her in the hospital for ages and covered in scars. We won’t learn exactly what for a while, but we pick up bits of that as she starts to piece together her life after coming home.
Her Mum (Katherine Kelly) has been raising her toddler. Little Rae (Eliza Brady-Girard) bursts into tears at the sight of her own mother. Jade might be devastated, but she wont show it.
She’s in her very early 20s, and seems all too happy to leave the kid with Mum to go out clubbing with her mates, Shami (Rebecca Stone) and her rapper-beau, Naz (Bluey Robinson).
Jade notices the stares, but Shami’s got her back, and Naz says a lot of compassionate things, which help.
Because Jade has issues. She wasn’t making good decisions before, and now she’s added rage and self-pity to her repertoire. An older woman keeps coming by, looking in on Rae.
That’s Rae’s other grandma, we figure. Because Jade goes OFF on her, every time she shows. Her baby daddy is responsible for what happened to her face.
And clinging to hopes that her “next surgery” will fix this isn’t helping.
The doctor may coo, “I’m really pleased, but Jade is furious that “I’m left with this f—–g DOG’s dinner” for a face.
Over the course of a few months, Jade finds a goal — “cheap plastic surgery” in Morocco — and a job, working at a call center. She figures out that using hand puppets and hiding under a blanket lets her bond with Rae.
Sexual fulfillment? Maybe online hook-ups will do, for now.
But Mum isn’t sure about this Morocco thing, the job is a place where alleged adults can be childishly cruel and “My web cam’s broke” is a sure way to get cut off from a LuvBuddy.com connection.
Knight lets us see Jade’s desperation and confusion, struggling with problems that no social worker can fix, questions that she’s only comfortable asking for herself online. That can be perilous.
“Oh, you’re one of those FOOT people, eh?”
Every step of the way, there are mistakes and pitfalls. Even her day in court with her assailant is a nightmare.
One of the script’s most promising touches is Jade’s realization that hijabs allow Muslim women to be whoever they want, hidden in plain sight. One online “how to wear one” tutorial later, she is liberated — if only for short while. Still, all signs point to “Morocco.”
Director and co-writer Sacha Polak sets Knight up with our sympathy, and then has the character tear little pieces of that off with her temper, her careless parenting and a narcissism that was there before her injuries. We see every mistake she’s about to make, and cringe on her behalf.
Maybe by the end of her “story,” we hope, Jade will do a little cringing of her own and change her destiny. Or maybe not.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, explicit sex, profanity, alcohol abuse and smoking
Cast: Vicky Knight, Katherine Kelly, Rebecca Stone, Bluey Robinson and Eliza Brady-Girard
Credits: Directed by Sacha Polak, script by Sacha Polak and Susie Farrell. A Dark Star release of a BBC Film.
Running time: 1:43