Recovering from an acid attack by an ex-boyfriend, Jade is a young, single mother in Hackney now dealing with scars both physical and emotional.
In an extraordinary performance by newcomer Vicky Knight, Jade battles to claim back her life and her sexuality. She’s not a loveable character at all, thoroughly flawed and we can’t help but judge her, although the director Sacha Polak, never does. She just lets her be, all while she’s a terrible mother to the little girl who screams at her Mummy’s scars.
It’s a bracing film, brilliant in parts, very good at club scenes and frank about online sex and sexual power. I keep thinking it might remind me of something, but no comparisons are that helpful – maybe Fish Tank, by Andrea Arnold, which also brought Katie Jarvis in as a first-time actor. Vicky Knight’s is the superior, dynamite blast of a performance, though. Curiously, I had Kierston Wareing on the radio show last week, talking about her time as the Mum in Fish Tank, and her new comedy I Love My Mum, which finds her lost in Morocco (for reasons you don’t need to know). And in this film, Jade travels to Morocco in search of cheap cosmetic surgery, so perhaps, yes, Fish Tank is the best companion piece to Dirty God.
If the film stretches itself a little thin and a couple of incidents feel overdone, it’s nothing the Dardennes haven’t tried before and there’s such power, anger and defiance running through it – all of which makes Dirty God one of the most notable British movies of the year.