‘Short and sweet’ is perhaps the best way to describe Rachel Shenton’s Oscar-winning film, The Silent Child. At a length of just 20 minutes, the debut production from the former Hollyoaks actress succeeds at painting an authentic and pure picture of a scenario many deaf young people face today.
Set in a rural countryside village, the film follows a typical family with bubbly child Libby (played by deaf actress Maisie Sly) at its heart. Born deaf, it’s soon established that she has struggled to communicate with the wider world. That is, until support worker Joanne (played by Shenton) is called in by the family to break down the communication barrier.
With charming shots from Chris Overton of Joanne riding her bicycle across country lanes, Shenton’s character has an air of Nanny McPhee about her. With textbooks in hand and the occasional sweet treat, Joanne offers her own real-life magic when she introduces Libby to the magic of sign language – one of the most heart-warming moments of the short film being when Libby signs for the first time.
What follows is the growing anxieties of a mother who sees a child deviating from the ‘mainstream’ route of speech and oralism. From the start, we see mum Sue (Rachel Fielding) portrayed as a snotty, arrogant mother which, at times, falls into cliché traits deaf viewers would have seen or experienced all too often – most likely because the forced oralism of hearing parents on deaf children is far from a rare occurrence.
As soon as we see the upbeat and powerful proof of how expressive British Sign Language can be, the film takes a much more tragic turn as a result of the above. Visual set-ups on-screen create a perfect visual metaphor for how mainstream schools for deaf children – without the right support – can only exaggerate the communication barrier that they face.
The tragic feel, dramatic but in no way inauthentic, is the perfect tone upon which to campaign for more sign language recognition and support in schools, with statistics displayed before the credits roll allowing the film to transcend the realms of fiction to illustrate a real-life problem that many deaf children and young people in the UK face today.
In a production well and truly worthy of its Oscar win, duo Rachel Shenton and Chris Overton perfectly illustrate the communication barrier some deaf young people face with raw, emotional and tragic honesty.