Dirty God is the personal, powerful story of an acid-attack victim played by Vicky Knight, directed by Sacha Polak.
Facing Upby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Acid attacks used to be the prerogative of poverty-stricken Third World countries with a misogynistic culture. But in recent years, they’ve proliferated in Britain too, as the media have reported only too often. Dirty God dramatically shows the life-long impact on on one working-class London woman of a revenge acid attack by her ex. It’s a very personal and powerful story.
As the film starts, silently traumatised Jade (excellently played by first-timer Vicky Knight, herself scarred by childhood burns, enhanced for the role) is released from hospital back to her mum’s (Katherine Kelly) flat in Hackney, still wearing her burns mask. The doctors say they can do no more cosmetically as she expected, only if her skin tightens and she needs medical help. “So I am left with this f***ing dog’s dinner,” she complains.
Her toddler daughter (Eliza Brady-Girard), who has been cared for by Jade’s mum, screams at the sight of her in her mask. Her friend Shami (Rebecca Stone) takes her clubbing and partying with their group of old friends and her new boyfriend (Bluey Robinson). But it’s all different now: Jade herself is different. Jade’s face, upper body and arms are still very scarred and it’s for life – and the film is about how she tries to come to terms with this life sentence.
So many difficult hurdles and humiliations for her to overcome in reclaiming all areas of her life: first there’s the trauma of attending her ex’s trial, then finding a job and coping with people’s reactions to her in public, and privately how can she get her sex life back now that she’s no longer physically attractive. She’s not always likeable, yet she’s authentic and real, and her back story is revealed bit by bit.
She briefly dons a burqa for welcome respite (to her mother’s horror), though mainly she bravely doesn’t hide her injuries. But the outward bravery is at a cost. It hides her desperation to get her old self back – can she? – and she finds a cheap plastic surgery clinic in Morocco. But can that really be the solution?
It’s impossible to fault Sacha Polak’s implicitly campaigning film, written by Susie Farrell, and with realistic improvised dialogue. It has some stunning visual moments too – the close-ups of scarred skin, so extreme that you can see the structural patterns that hold it together, and a scene in a car wash, when Jade opens up about her attack, where the visual is the skin-like patterns formed by the foaming water covering the car’s windscreen.
Dirty God is released in the UK just three weeks after the Offensive Weapons Bill 2018 passed into law. This was the result of the Acid Survivors Trust International’s pressure on the government to control the sale of acid and thus reduce the growing number of horrific acid attacks.
Speaking after a private screening for the Trust, Vicky Knight described how the film had saved her life. She had been suicidal and – “it changed the way I see myself, I feel proud of my scars”. She currently works as a nurse in a burns unit but she’s sensational as Jade and is now pursuing acting. Thanks to her and Polak, Dirty God is an intimate, moving human story that is genuinely inspiring – and must never happen to anyone again.
Dirty God is released on 7 June 2019 in the UK.