Silent Night: Camille Griffin on Filmmaking, Keira Knightley, Timing
When director Camille Griffin conceived the idea of the black comedy Silent Night, she had no intention of the film paralleling the current COVID pandemic. The story focuses on an extended family gathering at Christmas dinner on the eve of their environmental doom facing some nihilistic options on their way out. I spoke to Griffin about her long journey before finally getting her opportunity, how directors like Matthew Vaughn and Taika Waititi inspired her vision, and star Keira Knightley. Her inspiration behind Silent Night was existential and from a critically-acclaimed 2019 hit.
"The inspiration was my inner conflict with myself, my class system, my relationship with family and children wondering when we're all going to sit up and do a bit better?" Griffin said. "Are we capable of being better? What does it mean to do better? Those were the themes I think that inspired me that have done my whole life, but I didn't know how to articulate it before. I think the comedy was inspired by Taika Waititi. Watching him work on Jojo Rabbit, I was like, 'Wow, I didn't know you could do this with comedy.' I didn't realize that comedy could facilitate these difficult conversations, so that was life-changing for me. The other inspiration was my children watched Warhorse, and they wanted to know what was going to happen if there was a nuclear war. I think it's a difficult conversation to have, and I like to tell the truth. I try not to go crazy and overboard and to keep it within boundaries. And I'll throw in a few laughs over this. I'm like, 'When there's a nuclear war is going to be pretty, pretty dreadful, and we've got options: We either go into the basement, build a bunker, eat each other, or take some pills. They're like, 'We're not taking pills.' I was like, 'OK.' So [laughs] that conversation had to happen.'
Griffin grew up on war films her father played on television. Her passion for filmmaking developed watching Cary Grant and Harrison Ford-starred Indiana Jones adventures. "I must have seen Indiana Jones 50 million times," she said. "It was the only time I was truly happy was watching movies. It's just taken an awfully long time to get here because I couldn't get my films made, but I tried everything I could. I studied, I trained, and I worked in the film machine. I did everything, but the gatekeepers in the UK wouldn't open the doors to me until I stopped knocking on their doors. I went to Matthew Vaughn, and he had the courage to go, 'Yeah, let's do this.' I'd been trying for many, many years, so I didn't just fall into it. I don't know how you could fall into becoming a filmmaker. I think it's so hard to be a filmmaker, so we're privileged to be a filmmaker, but I don't know how anyone can just fall into it because it's a journey is too difficult to get there."
With Vaughn as a producer on Silent Night, Griffin wasn't sure if she could initially secure her lead star at first. "I thought I was just going to make a movie in one of my friends' houses with a bunch of my mates. So it was when I realized I didn't have enough money to do that. I went to Matthew for advice, and he was like, 'Let's make this,' and he said, 'Who you want to play Nell? I was like, 'Well, it's going to be Keira Knightley, right?' I mean, she's Miss Working Title. She's the projection of the perfect English rose in the UK, and I thought, 'Well, we've got to play against stereotype in the film that actively written as clichéd characters, but with a bit more depth. I'm trying to parody the genre intentionally because I want to parody the class system behind the genre. Keira was perfect, but I didn't think she'd say yes. When she did, I was completely in awe of her because that's brave. I don't think [most] came on board for me. I think they came for the script, Keira, or her, then the script. Those two elements were an awful lot for actors to go, 'Wow, we love this.' Then I didn't put them off, and we had a great time."
Griffin credits Vaughn for his invaluable guidance. "He's changed my career," she said. "He was an extraordinary mentor. He was also a source of conflict because he had his own opinion on everything, and his opinion won over mine. So he was a balance of being…maybe that is the perfect mentor. He was someone who could teach me, encourage me, trust me, and then other times, argue, disagree, and reinforce my movie. I didn't want him to ruin. Nothing was easy about that. I was blessed and punished at the same time. I really do mean that in both senses, I don't sit and get 'Matthew won't punish me.' It wasn't that it was he gave, and he made me fight for things, and I didn't always win, but I owe him a lot. I am an awful lot, and he's very, very clever." RLJE Films' Silent Night, which also stars Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Ṣọpé Dìrísù, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch, Rufus Jones, and Trudie Styler, is currently available to stream on AMC+