‘Silver Haze’ Review: A Bold Story of Self-Discovery

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a British movie set at the seaside will be incredibly depressing, and on the surface, Silver Haze is another one of them. It’s done in the usual no-budget British style saved for working-class stories – handheld cameras following screaming families of dubious income smoking endless cigarettes, with the main emotions on display being anger and/or self-pity – and there Silver Haze also breaks no new ground. But what it does do is center an unusual actress in a bold story of self-discovery that’s all the more powerful for being so small-scale.

The story of Silver Haze

Franky (Vicky Knight) lives in east London with her drunken mother, Jenn (TerriAnn Cousins), and her adult siblings, most importantly her moody sister Leah (Charlotte KnightMs. Knight’s real-life sister). She has a boyfriend she doesn’t much like but a job she does as a nurse, though the pandemic isn’t mentioned for a second. It’s tough primarily because the patients ask about her scars. Franky, as did Ms. Knight, survived a fire as a child which left her badly scarred. The family is convinced the fire was started by Jenn’s former best friend, the current partner of Franky’s father, who abandoned the family while Franky was still in hospital. But no one was ever held responsible even though the man who rescued Franky died, and while it’s been 15 years, the entire family still feels very sorry for themselves. 

Franky is so me-against-the-world she won’t admit she’s unhappy even to herself. But when she meets a suicidal patient named Florence (Esmé Creed-Miles), something shifts. They go smoke weed in the park and quickly fall into an unlikely but strong relationship. Franky is older, but Florence is posher, at least on the surface. Also Florence has a nicer family, a “grandmother” named Alice (an incredible Angela Bruce) and a “brother” named Jack (Archie Sugden) who live on the coast outside London. Franky feels happier in Alice’s house than in her own, especially since her family’s reactions to Florence are prejudiced at best. Meanwhile, Alice and Jack are welcoming and curious, treating Franky like an adult and refusing to tolerate the immaturity and self-pity that’s an average day at Jenn’s. 

But even as Florence and Franky commit to each other, there’s obvious trouble ahead. When one partner is permanently defensive, and the other is permanently selfish, it’s a bad combination. All the laughing mudfights and glittery daytime raves in the world won’t make up for drunken public arguments about who is embarrassing the other more. There are a few surprising acts of violence – though the one on the bus is so poorly staged it’s not as frightening as it ought to have been – making it tricky to find anyone sympathetic. But for writer-director Sacha Polak, this is the point of Silver Haze. These imperfect, angry, complicated women deserve happiness, though right now they are so messed up and unhappy they can’t find any peace in themselves, much less in each other. The question is, will they be able to find it together or separately? 

Florence normally uses and discards other people, but Ms. Creed-Miles makes it clear here that Florence has met her match, and Franky is forcing her to reassess herself, whether she wants to or not. Charlotte Knight, who is not a professional and took the role to make things easier for her sister, is absolutely fantastic as an inarticulate young woman whose heart is in the right place, even if most of her choices are tough to understand.

But it’s Ms. Knight’s movie – it was based on her own life and done in a way to allow her to shine. Her body is filmed by Tibor Dingelstad in a way where her scars are just a fact of life, no more shocking than any other body, and while they have shaped Franky’s life, so has her aggressiveness, which is a cover for her depression. It’s clear that Ms. Knight knows to her core what Franky is feeling, and the way in which Ms. Polak has now built two films around her unusual life (2019’s Dirty God, unseen by me, was the first) is a remarkable tribute to her skills as an actress. 

It’s not unheard of in the UK for actors to have this level of physical difference; Amanda Redman has had a forty-year career despite serious burns after pulling a pot of soup over herself as a toddler. But of course, the main issue in the UK is class.

Ms. Creed-Miles’ mother, Samantha Morton, had to achieve success in Hollywood before she was able to escape only working-class parts, and by sending Ms. Creed-Miles to boarding school, she was able to give her daughter the class boost that has undoubtedly helped her career. There are more opportunities for working-class actors like Ms. Knight in television; look at Joe Gilgun or Vicky McClure’s career paths. Regardless of where Ms. Knight might choose to go, right now, Silver Haze is a rough but excellent depiction of one woman’s journey to a more peaceful future. It’s not always a relaxing watch, but it’s definitely worth our admiration. 

Silver Haze is now playing at BFI Flare. It will be in theaters on March 29, 2024.

What do you think of Silver Haze? Are you interested in seeing it? Let us know on X @MoviesWeTexted.

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