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Film review: Dirty God

14 June 2019

Stephen Brown reviews the film Dirty God

Katherine Kelly as Lisa and Vicky Knight as Jade in Dirty God, on current release

Katherine Kelly as Lisa and Vicky Knight as Jade in Dirty God, on current release

“I’M DAMNED. . . My God’s different to your God. My God’s a dirty God.” So says Jade, thus enlightening us on why the film Dirty God (Cert. 15) has been given that title. She has been the victim of an acid attack and entertains notions that either she deserved such treatment or else, rightly or wrongly, she is for ever cursed as a result.

Vicky Knight, herself a casualty of burns that left permanent scars, makes her acting début as the struggling young mother of a toddler, Rae (Eliza Brady-Girard). We learn little about the assault except that Jade had been in a relationship with the man. The director Sacha Polak interprets his violence in terms of “If you refuse to be beautiful for me, I won’t let you be beautiful for anybody.” Such an attitude treats women as male possessions, and it would seem that Jade can define herself only in these terms.

Thus, when attractiveness is stolen from her it is particularly devastating to the girl. She is probably not the sharpest tool in the box, and her face was her fortune. It was her identity. With that asset now gone, she goes through a period clutching at straws, puzzling where her worth lies. Barely an adult herself, Jade’s ideas of parenting alarm Lisa, Rae’s grandmother (Katherine Kelly in great form). Jade physically addresses her continuing sexual needs via explicit online sites alongside her young child. Or she stays out all hours, carting the baby around dubious locations with her. She pins impossible hopes on a skin doctor in Morocco.

Vicky Knight as Jade and Rebecca Stone as Shami in Dirty God

In many ways, she is little different from the young people she hangs out with. They come over as a lost generation, seeking fulfilment in ways that lead to destruction. Jade’s good-time girl friend Shami (Rebecca Stone) has lost touch with her Muslim roots. In Marrakech, she fails to recognise the call to prayer. Rowdy nightclubs, transient emotional encounters, drugs, and dead-end jobs are the mainstay of these post-Millennial youngsters.

Jade’s is a long purgative experience. Yet it is a story ultimately of hope. While religious connotations would be hard to identify, the title gives us the clue to a strong incarnational theme: God’s grace-full willingness to be near us in all of our messiness. We see this in numerous small ways: Naz (Bluey Robinson) who perceives Jade’s inner beauty beneath the outer surface; the workmate who reminds her that Rae doesn’t judge by appearances. “All that kid sees is a mother.”

Though unacknowledged in the credits, the film may owe something to Johnnie Moore’s book Dirty God: Jesus in the trenches. He argues that we’re not only grace-getters, but grace-givers. At the heart of the story is Lisa, whose economic survival comes by way of handling stolen goods. In a rough and ready way, she dispenses grace. There is an upholding of daughter and child in the midst of her own despair that the attacker has destroyed Jade. It is love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. Far from being damned, Jade, thank God, is unconditionally blessed.

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