“My brilliant father lost his hearing very suddenly when I was 12 and lived the last 2 years of his life profoundly deaf. I witnessed first hand the huge effects deafness has on a family. I also saw him for the first time seem vulnerable and I noticed how easy it was for people to leave him out.” – Rachel Shenton
Rachel Shenton, British actress most known for her roles in TV dramas Hollyoaks and Switched at Birth, was inspired by her personal experience to first learn sign language and then become an activist, raising awareness of deafness in the UK. Her efforts culminated in her writing a screenplay for a short – directed by Chris Overton – that stands to show the struggles numerous deaf kids face when they are born into hearing families, not just in the UK, but all around the world.
Libby (Maisie Sly) is a 4-year old girl, born into an average middle-class family. She was born deaf and lives her life on the edge of her family’s attention, both in silence and in considerable isolation from her successful older siblings and parents who are too busy to really pay attention to her or to notice just how isolated she really is. But a light shines into Libby’s bleak existence when a hired specialized social worker Joanne (Rachel Shenton) teaches her how to communicate by using sign language. Alas, through a lack of understanding, combined with complex emotions by Libby’s mother Sue (Rachel Fielding), who watches her distant daughter thrive under Joanne’s care, and with a classic case of fear and effort to normalize “the unknown” instead of investing an effort to understand, the short does not end in a way the viewers would have wanted, but ends by sending out a loud message.
The story itself is quite well-written, with well-developed characters; the cast did a great job, but the one who really stands out is Maisie Sly. The 5-year-old with no previous acting experience, but plentiful life experience as she is deaf herself and communicates through sign language, both delivered a great performance and shined an extra meaningful light in her role as Libby.
The only criticism that can be found in The Silent Child is that the ending moment has perhaps an unnecessary whiff of melodrama with the interaction between Joanne’s character and Libby, and could have perhaps been handled in a different way that brought out more of Libby’s struggle instead of the helplessness of Joanne, which shifted focus a bit away from the intended centre, but it still does not take away from the message or from the fact that the short tells a story that needs to be told, that needs to be seen, and that needs to be heard. It is no wonder that The Silent Child found itself shortlisted for the Oscars among the Live Action Short selection – hopefully, this will bring it the attention it needs and deserves.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © Slick Films