At A Glance
As an ecological disaster looms a party of middle class Brits stoically ensure that Christmas celebrations will prevail regardless of their impending doom. Silent Night is a dark comedy starring Keira Knightly and Matthew Goode.
Directed by Camille Griffin
Written by Camille Griffin
Released by Altitude
2021, 92 minutes,
In Cinemas 3rd December & On Digital Platforms 6th December
Social Media, Twitter: @AltitudeFilms, Instagram: @altitudefilmUK
Official website https://www.altitude.film/page/silent-night
Keira Knightley as Nell
Matthew Goode as Simon
Roman Griffin Davis as Art
Annabelle Wallis as Sandra
Lily-Rose Depp as Sophie
Lucy Punch as Bella
Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Alex
Sope Dirisu as James
Rufus Jones as Tony
It’s not every filmmaker that has the good fortune to have star power such as Keira Knightly and Matthew Goode in the leading role of your feature debut, and have Matthew Vaughn produce it. But for writer / director Camille Griffin the ride hasn’t been as easy as you think. For all of us who have worked in the film industry you make friends with rejection, it’s the bitter pill we all have to swallow. But Griffin’s perseverance has paid off, as this Christmas Silent Night also starring her son and JoJo Rabbit’s Roman Griffin Davis hits UK cinemas December 3rd, I was fortunate enough to find out more about its inspiration and the message she is trying to convey.
This is definitely a dark Christmas comedy isn’t it?
Yep, yes I think it’s dark.
It starts off very light and as we obviously progress through the movie there’s a much darker shift and undertone that throbs through the film.
It’s definitely dark, definitely is dark. It’s interesting what makes something dark and obviously we didn’t know that the film was going to end up being introduced during a pandemic, so obviously there was no pandemic when we made the film, when I wrote and directed the film. I think it’s made a difference that it’s landed during a pandemic which is obviously heart-breaking, heart-breaking for everyone.
What was the fruition of the story and what had inspired you to write it?
Well you can probably tell I’ve got this posh accent, right. I tried to get rid of it but I can’t. I grew up in Sussex, well actually I’m still in Sussex; I left Sussex and came back, so it’s interesting how you are programmed to return to certain things. Anyway I grew up in Sussex with a French / Sicilian mother, who was one of 11 and aristocratic stepfather. And it was chaos, dysfunctional chaos, they are amazing. And I remember living in this posh world thinking this is completely hypocritical nonsense. Why do all these posh people get to make decisions and I don’t really think I trust them. I went to boarding school young, I met amazing people and had great friends but there were paedophiles around and it was just a mess. But when I was very young they were given all the status and yet I don’t know if they had any morality with it, or the right morality. So all my material has been trying to challenge the dysfunction of the middles classes or the middle upper classes, but I couldn’t get a movie made for years, not because all of my films were as dark as this one (laughs), but I just couldn’t get a film made. And I think interestingly enough the British don’t really make films about the middle classes unless it’s a period drama or The Crown or it’s a Working Title movie. And then my son Roman wanted to act, he decided wanted to be an actor, it took him two years and he got the job on JoJo (Rabbit).
Ah right that’s the correlation!
Weirdly enough we were living in LA for six months when he got that job, I don’t think he would have got it if he had been in the UK. So we went to do this film and I met Taika (Waititi) and we got on and we became very good friends and I remember looking at Taika and going what a clever thing to use comedy, it hadn’t occurred to me that you can take comedy and talk about really dark material. So I have to be honest he was a huge inspiration for me. And something lifted when I was in Prague for that experience, he had amazing people, we had a great time, but it wasn’t easy, none of it was easy, Roman worked hard, he was getting blown up and called names (laughs). We came back from that and I felt something had shifted and I thought I’m gonna sit down and I’m just going to give it one last go. I’ve been rejected for 25 years and I’ve kept going, and I said to my husband, ‘I’m gonna give it one more go, and if it doesn’t work out I’m gonna go and live with the refugees, that or jump off Beachy Head. And he went, ‘Oh God, OK.’ So I wrote the script and that was it really.
It’s told very much from the boy, Art’s point of view, and I suppose we’ve seen it with the pandemic, the film does question how we are ready to believe without asking the bigger questions?
I think it’s interesting, it’s definitely not an anti-vax film, its socialism, anti-vaxers are generally conservative republicans who don’t give a shit about anyone right, sorry (laughs). But the thing is I remember as a kid thinking, well, who do you trust? Fundamentally, who do you trust? And how do you find a place to be safe? So I ask questions, I don’t join a queue, just because I see people queuing up, but I do see a lot of people join and queue and I go, ‘What they queuing for? There are five more lines that are shorter.’ But the point is I want my children to think for themselves, I don’t want them to be a pain in the arse and to challenge everything the teacher says. And I say to them, ‘You’ve got to learn to respect the system, we’ve got to learn to ask questions. Is this right? Is it morally correct?’ The other day the teacher was reading Of Mice and Men and they were using the N-word and they came home. ‘They’ve used the N-word at school.’ And I was like, ‘What the hell? In this year? What the hell?’ And my kids were saying, ‘Is this appropriate? Excuse me teacher should we be using?’ None of the other kids were standing up saying, ‘Excuse me, why are you using that word?’ So the point is, of course my kids, I’ve trained them to question and trust authority because our government are complete morons. Look they’ve completely screwed up the last however many years. And the exit pill (in the film) is supposed to be a reference to Brexit. So for me, I know it’s a bit simplistic because it’s told from the eyes of a child and there’s a kind of fairy tale essence to it, dark fairy tale, a Hansel and Gretel fairy tale (laughs). So yeah that’s important for me, you’re right, if someone asks you to die, you have got to ask yourself why am I making these choices and what does it mean?
It’s set around Christmas and because we perceive Christmas as such a happy time, we have a certain expectation of what we think of Christmas, so does your film have a bigger impact because of what this party is really all about?
It’s so interesting because I spoke to a lady Helen before you and you have both said it. It’s so interesting because I have had to explain that before today. But of course Christmas is a time when you’re like we’ve got to be good, we’ve got to be our best selves, we’ve got to think about all the people we have let down and our family members we don’t really like, but that’s ok, of course they can come for Christmas, no one should be alone at Christmas. But we do, there’s a sentimentality and everything is heightened and exactly as you said. So that was perfect really to try and see people as their best selves as they are about to die.
And the catalyst is something that happens environmentally that makes them do what they do. So is there a message here about our need to protect the planet more and be more observant?
We were living in London for many years and then I had three kids very quickly as you’ve seen in the film, because the boys are mine. I said to my husband, ‘We’ve got three babies.’ And we couldn’t fit in the house, so we just left very impulsively and came to Sussex and I didn’t really have a relationship with nature, so I bought a dog, I broke my ankle and I bought a dog to get better. And there’s a forest, the Ashdown Forest near here, which is Winnie the Pooh land. And then I suddenly found, I had a relationship with spirituality because of nature and I am not saying that as a big hippy, but we don’t treat people properly, we don’t treat our planet properly and it’s the indigenous who really need to be heard at the minute because it’s their lands that we’re particularly raping. And that’s their entire being, so of course, what I am really trying to say is we don’t all have to be activists, I’m certainly not an activist but we do have to do better, and it’s our kids who are gonna inherit all our mistakes. I’m not saying it’s your fault or my fault, it’s everyone, it’s our parents and their parents, and their parents. But really it’s the politicians that need to do better and it’s disgraceful that yesterday 20 odd people died in the Channel.
As you said you’ve been a struggling filmmaker for many years, and your directorial debut is produced by Matthew Vaughn, so there’s definitely a message of perseverance in your story, how did that happen?
I could really moan and slag off the British film industry for a good couple of hours, but I won’t, but that is just to tell you how frustrated I was. A good friend of mine who is a very successful filmmaker she said, ‘Stop asking for their approval.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah you’re right, what am I doing?’ But you have to get their approval, you have to go, ‘Excuse me sir, please sir can I make a movie?’ I did iFeatures for three years in a row. And you go, ‘Please Sir can I have some money? And they go, ‘um no sorry, no not good enough, not interested, too dark, to stoic.’ So I said to my husband I’m just going to make a movie and then I realised I didn’t have any money, I thought I’d try and make this film for no money, or whatever, I made a lot of short films like that. And then I said, ‘Maybe I’ll ask Matthew Vaughn for advice as I used to be a clapper loader for 13 years, I worked in the camera department for many years. After leaving film school I joined the camera department, so I made short films, so I had a lot of experience on-set and I had been in the industry forever and my husband is a cinematographer and he was working with Matthew and I had worked on Layer Cake as a clapper loader. I said, ‘Maybe I should ask Matthew for advice, cos obviously he had made Lock, Stock (and Two Smoking Barrels) and what I do know about Matthew is that’s he’s completely unique, he did everything differently and what he didn’t do is go to the BFI and say, ‘Excuse me can I have some money please?’ So Ben (Davis) said, ‘Oh that’s not Matthew’s kind of movie.’ I said, ‘I just want to ask his advice.’ He tried to put me off asking him, not out of mean, manipulation. So I did reach out to Matthew and Will who works with Carlos and Carlos who works with Matthew, they read it and Ben said, ‘They really like your script.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that is interesting, I just really wanted his advice.’ And then one day the phone rang and Matthew was on the phone, ‘Cammy, do you want to make this movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah I really do.’ ‘OK, let’s make it.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He was like, ‘Oh we’ll make it.’ And that was it! It was so strange. Any way we did, we made it, he made it; he made it happen.
The message there is nurturing relationships isn’t it? And people really do want to help?
I think for me the message is, because I think Matthew is a unique human being and thank God to him, but I wouldn’t also suggest any new filmmaker go to a Matthew because it’s not easy. He’s a hard task master and he’s taught me a hell of a lot. I think he’s a remarkable person, but the point is and the message for me is, we’re all knocking on the wrong doors, and you’re right it is about nurturing relationships but it doesn’t have to be a film person. It’s like, don’t let those gatekeepers decide who gets to make films, the problem with this industry that those people are deciding who gets to make films, so keep going and look in other areas.