“We really are where we need to be,” says a nurse during a hospital check-up on Jade's skin. “Well I'm not,” says Jade, moving out of the door. Although the acid burns no longer represent a threat to her physical wellbeing, they still loom over her self-image. Her looks, which used to guarantee male attention, are now drawing stares for other reasons. As the NHS taps out, she looks to a sham clinic in Morocco for reconstructive surgery. Vicky Knight (a nurse in her first role who really suffered burns after being trapped in a London pub fire) is Dirty God’s MVP. She is in nearly every scene of Dutch director Sacha Polak's English-language debut. With an understated natural presence that combines toughness and vulnerability, hers is a debut comparable to Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank.
DP Ruben Impens (Raw, Beautiful Boy, The Mustang) pursues Knight with a handheld camera, capturing how it feels to move through her world with an intimacy that sometimes has the quality of a personal reverie. Through his lens, London is both a bleak concrete jungle and a place as graced by dancing sunbeams as anywhere else. More grounded treatment is given to Jade's relationships with her black-market saleswoman mother, call-centre colleague and two best friends: Shami (Rebecca Stone), who is female, and Naz (Bluey Robinson), who is oh-so-strikingly male. Her young child is an afterthought always, and the bad mother aspect of her character is presented as calmly as her sexual explorations online.
The narrative is a patchwork of the everyday, with scenes sometimes falling flat but more often taking off, especially when the cutting dialogue is funny. After Jade, Shami and Naz fly out to Morocco the film ascends to a woozy, impressionistic reckoning. Under the candy strobe of club lights, a discussion filmed in intense close-up illuminates who Jade has always been under the skin.