The Silent Child

Deaf 4-year-old Libby bonds with a carer who teaches her sign language – but her mother insists this will hinder Libby’s ability to lip read.

Genre: Drama

Length: 20:00

Free To View

4.5 out of 5 stars

Producer/s : Rebecca Harris, Daniel Ormerod

Director/s : Chris Overton, 

Writer/s : Rachel Shenton, 

Actor/s : Rachel Fielding, Rachel Shenton


Watch and learn, watch and learn

Jo, a specialist in working with deaf children, joins a busy family to look after four-year-old Libby. Sue and Paul, Libby’s parents, have low expectations – they just want Jo to try and build up Libby’s confidence before she starts school.

There’s a telling moment when we see the family meal from the little girl’s angle. Everyone is animated, talking, smiling… in total silence. What the hell are they so happy about, we think, and realise that this is Libby’s experience of the world, all the time.

Jo teaches Libby some signing, and Libby responds, and her world appears to open up. There’s a revelatory scene in a café, when she sees two deaf people signing.

But there’s grit in the syrup. Sue worries that signing won’t help her daughter when she starts school. Sue’s faith in lip-reading and speech therapy is unrealistic to the point of denial, and we learn the reason for her careless, almost cruel attitude.

Libby starts school. No-one signs, there’s no interpreter, and the little girl is isolated once more. Jo can only watch her standing alone in the playground, and sign I love you to her. It’s undeniably moving. Oscar fodder, even.

Sometimes the film is not as subtle as we might expect from the best of British. The dialogue tries too hard to be naturalistic, and those sideways looks and wrinkled brows are just a bit self-conscious. Only Maisie Sly as Libby is blameless, and her unaffected acting knocks the others off the park.

Most deaf children like Libby go to school with no specialist support. The Silent Child is part of a battle for sign language to be recognised in all schools across the globe. The 2017 Oscar will help with this, and was the right choice.