JUDY AND PUNCH (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW
Written and Directed by Mirrah Foulkes
Produced by: Michele Bennett, nash Edgerton, Danny Gabai
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie, Gillian Jones, Virginia Gay etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
If you’re not aware of the good, old-fashioned Punch and Judy puppet show, then it was basically a seaside attraction that has its origins in 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte. Over the decades it thrived and would move from marionette stylings to a mobile glove puppet show. Punch would batter various characters including his wife, Judy, a crocodile, a police officer, a dog, a blind man and the Devil. He would be a very bad parent; often drunk and violent in charge of his own baby. Incredibly, this rather unsavoury character would become very popular with children, appearing at carnivals, fairs and coastal shows.
With Disney cornering the market adapting myths, fairy tales and Theme Park rides over the years, I’m surprised they did not have a go at Punch and Judy. How they would reconcile this brightly coloured, but despicable character would have been fascinating. Yet, it is Australian filmmaker Mirrah Foulkes, who has written and directed this arthouse drama starring Mia Wasikowska as the harassed Judy, and Damon Herriman as the drunken puppeteer. Set during the Dark Ages in the town of Seaside, the plot follows the traditional narrative of the original puppet show. Except, this time Judy is very pissed off and about to go medieval on Punch’s arse!
Part revenge thriller, part-black comedy and part mythical origins drama, Judy and Punch (2019) is full of fantastic and gritty detail. The reconstruction of the theatrical puppet shows are brilliant, and evocation of the era is very realistic. The film performs well as a savage denouncement of toxic masculinity in the #MeToo era. But, despite the excellent performances from Wasikowska and Herriman, the characters were a bit too one-dimensional to really grip me. Yet, Wasikowska is especially memorable as Judy, eliciting an inner strength to overcome the cruelty of her husband and the town she lives in.
Lastly, the story also felt a little flat and lacked surprise in places, but that may be because the trailer gave a lot of the narrative away. It’s also because I am very familiar with the original Punch and Judy show, as I watched loads of them as a kid. Having said that, Mirrah Foulkes has delivered a stylish film curiosity which is destined for cult status. Moreover, she deserves much praise for attempting to give a children’s puppet show story depth. The visual iconography is powerful, as is the exploration of themes relating to domestic violence, child neglect, witch hunts; and the exclusion of the outsider or other by petty townsfolk mentality.