“CINEMA” REVIEW: THE NIGHTINGALE (2019)
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Produced by: Kristina Ceyton, Steve Hutensky, Jennifer Kent, Bruna Papandrea
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell, Michael Sheasby, etc.
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Cinematography: Radek Ladczuk
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE NIGHTINGALE (2019) is a brutal film about rape and murder. It’s about the rape of an individual. The rape of a nation. The murders of youth, race, nature, humanity and life itself. It is an extremely powerful and impactful viewing experience, but not for those of a faint heart or sensitive disposition. When released it caused much controversy with some audience members walking out during festival screenings. This is no doubt due to several scenes displaying sickening moments of violence against men, women and children. However, the director Jennifer Kent, has not written and helmed a mere exploitation revenge film here. Instead, she has fashioned a beautiful and ugly tragedy, which prevails damning indictment against masculine savagery, colonialism and British rule.
Set in 1825 in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (presently Tasmania), THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), follows a young female convict seeking revenge for an unspeakable act of violence committed against her family. Clare Carroll, nicknamed “Nightingale” due to her lovely singing voice, is a young mother and wife looking to be given her freedom. It is held by Sam Claflin’s abusive British officer, Hawkins. Rather than free her he decides to thrust himself upon her sexually. Yet, when she rebuffs his drunken and lurid behaviour, he goes mob-handed to take her. Then when her husband intervenes, Hawkins and his soldiers act without honour or courage, leaving a family wrecked in their wake.
Hawkins and his men venture through the bush to Launceston the next day, to gain a promotion from the top brass he believes he deserves. Claire rallies and pursues them with bloody revenge in mind. She is assisted in her search by Aboriginal guide, “Billy” Mangana (Baykali Ganambarr). Billy is initially reluctant to chase British soldiers. Not surprising as the British have ravaged his people, land and culture, leaving the indigenous people outcasts in their own country. While Claire and Billy initially conflict they soon realise they have a common foe. Thus, while revenge supplies the bones for the narrative, the screenplay fleshes out their chase with intriguing cultural clashes and reconciliation. Indeed, the unlikely pair will eventually come to respect each other’s differences and find common ground over the course of the story.
Having received much critical acclaim with the low-budget horror film THE BABADOOK (2014), Jennifer Kent has moved from inner demonic possession to a more epic and external approach to horror. Because amidst the bucolic wonder of the Australian wilderness, the British brought death and chaos to the area. While one understands the need to have a place to house its prisoners (the barbarous treatment of the working classes is a whole different story), the rapacious desolation of the indigenous culture is a vital message within the film. Claire Carroll and Billy Mangana are symbols of a lost and damaged generation. They are emblems of people who deserve justice and reparation. Moreover, the message remains valid today, especially with the rise of the alternative-right and the continued sexual abuse faced by women everyday. Lastly, with a moving and tough leading portrayal by Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr providing a spiritual heart, and Sam Claflin giving a fearlessly repugnant representation of British aggression, THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), tells a horrific, disturbing, but righteously relevant tale.