Writer and Director: Will Thorne
A British Christmas gangster film may not bode well, especially when the plot revolves around an ex-con promising to be present at his daughter’s Nativity play. But any fears of Silent Night being coated in festive saccharine are quickly allayed as Mark agrees to carry out one last job to free himself from the clutches of an old-fashioned South London crime syndicate. With some wry humour, Will Thorne’s film is a dark alternative to the usual Christmas offerings.
Leaving prison, Mark would rather sleep in his van than the hostels that he supposed to move into, and parking outside his estranged wife’s house gives him the chance to see his daughter Daisy, who wants a pony for Christmas. An impossible request as Mark receives little money in his tree-cutting job, where his wages are docked when he doesn’t have his own equipment. But it’s at this job where he meets his old cellmate Alan and the two swiftly become partners in crime.
Mark wants to go straight, for his family’s sake, but Alan encourages him to return to a life of crime, and seek revenge on the criminal boss who set him up, and let him go to prison. But the boss has other ideas and forces Mark to carry out one more job, to kill three rival gang members who have designs to take over the turf of Sutton and Morden. If Mark doesn’t comply his daughter could be in danger.
With double-crosses, and botched assassinations, Thorne’s film travels in unexpected directions despite its ‘one last job’ credentials. Of course, any British gangster film will be compared to those directed by Guy Ritchie and while there is evidence of Ritchie’s influence, Thorne has a smaller budget, but this allows him to focus more on the understated acting of his cast. As Mark, Bradley Taylor is almost self-effacing, holding at a bay a rage that simmers. A man of little words, and those he does say are mumbled, sometimes incoherently. More lively, is Cary Crankson as oddball Alan. Although, Alan is initially portrayed as a comic character, Crankson suggests that the lag is capable of much more, and gleefully offers to do most of the dirty work. The two actors create a quite a double-act, and you want them to succeed.
A true British crime film needs Michael Caine, or, in Silent Night’s case, someone like him, and so playing the gang boss Caddy is Frank Harper who eventually grows into his role as the paranoid head of the South London firm. Thorne has fun with stock gangster film scenes, and we first see Caddy, holding court and eating ribs, in a deserted Chinese restaurant as if he were a mafia warlord in New York City. But the camera proves, as it shows us the restaurant’s exterior, that we are firmly in a suburban sprawl, Southern trains whizzing by.
A good crime film should also involve a garage, like Phil’s Arches in EastEnders, and Silent Night does not disappoint, though it quietly subverts the trope in making the boss here a woman, Toni, played with conviction by Jackie Howe. Along with Nathaniel Martello-White and Joel Fry as potato-loving drug dealers, Thorne has acquired a formidable cast, all of whom are larger than life but in very ordinary ways that makes this film different to other gangster films, British or American.
The world that Thorne depicts must surely have disappeared long ago and save only the occasional mobile phone in view and one joke about Toyota Prius cars, this film could be set anytime in the last 50 years and this nostalgia for these eras, though brutal, is one of the film’s strengths. If you’re looking for Christmas cheer this film is not for you; but if you want an offbeat Christmas, still with all the trimmings, including, most importantly, the cranberry sauce, then Silent Night just might be the ticket.
Released on 11 December 2020