From the start, it’s not immediately obvious what The Silent Child is about. It opens with a woman riding a bike down country lanes to a slow and mysterious piece of music, which immediately creates a sense of unease. Is that an indication of what’s to come? (In short, no.)
It transpires the cyclist, Jo (Rachel Shenton, who also wrote the film), is travelling to the family home of three-year-old Libby (Maisie Sly), who is deaf. Jo is there to assess Libby’s needs and begin teaching her sign language ahead of her starting school. While normally quite inanimate and stoic because of her inability to communicate, Libby’s personality changes dramatically as she gets to grips with fingerspelling, and at the same time she starts to form a close bond with Jo.
As she does, however, her mum (Rachel Fielding) starts growing concerned. She wants to wean Libby off sign language and get her used to lip-reading, but with no obvious reason for doing so. Maybe she feels her position is being threatened, maybe she doesn’t like the stigma of being seen fingerspelling. Whatever the reason, her increasing hostility to accept that her daughter needs help makes her highly resistant to Jo and her
The film does well to portray the isolation of deafness and how a disability in a family can cause friction – which will resonate to anyone with any experience of this – but unfortunately its ending lets it down. While it’s the most realistic conclusion to events, the tone of the film hints that something more unexpected is coming, and it’s somewhat disappointing when it doesn’t.
Also, there are other plot elements introduced – Libby’s real parentage, tension in the family caused by Jo’s presence – that would be worth exploring but are ultimately ignored, which makes you wonder why they were introduced to begin with.
On a technical level, The Silent Child is very well photographed by Ali Farahani, whose crisp visuals help to convey the realism of the film as well as drawing us in. At the same time, a convicted and anchoring performance from Shenton adds much integrity and earnestness to the film. It’s obvious, from her performance and her script, that this is subject matter very important to her, and she’s giving it her all.
Against the film, however, is Amir Konjani’s score, which feels out of place. The Silent Child is in essence a quiet true-to-life drama with a dark undertone, but it has the accompanying music of a thriller. It’s easy to get the wrong idea of what to think and expect from the film from its score.
The film ends with the startling statistic that more than three-quarters of deaf children have no support at school, and it’s admirable of the film to try and bring attention to a worthwhile cause. The Silent Child has heart and is thought-provoking, which is enough to transcend its imperfections and make a viewing more than worthwhile.
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