Beautifully filmed yet brutal to watch, writer/director Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is a revenge drama that will resonate with any woman who’s ever been assaulted — or, for that matter, dismissed by society. Set in 1825 Tasmania, it follows the plight of Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict who’s suffered years of manipulation and abuse at the hands of a British officer named Hawkins (Sam Claflin) but has still managed to eke out some happiness in the form of her beloved husband and their baby.
All Clare wants is to finally enjoy the freedom she knows she’s earned through her hard work and stoic survival of Hawkins’ cruelty, which includes rape. But Hawkins refuses to let her go, and a confrontation between Clare, her husband, and the soldiers escalates rapidly, culminating in unimaginable horror and tragedy. Left for dead — and convinced she has nothing left to live for — Clare grabs a shotgun and a horse, hires an Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to help her find Hawkins and his minions, and sets off into the wilderness to exact her vengeance.
Clare and Billy don’t exactly hit it off — initially, she’s as mistrustful and suspicious of him as all of the other racist white colonizers are. But she comes to value his skills and trustworthiness, and he helps her understand the pain and outrage of what white people have done to his home and his people. The two share a justified, righteous anger about their inescapable status as second-class citizens. That anger only grows as they encounter even more casual brutality and oppression on their journey.
In The Nightingale, Kent creates a lush but harsh world; no one is spared from the consequences of bigotry or the abuse of power. The many scenes of violence are wince-inducing, but they also have heft and impact — this isn’t gratuitous splatter. And the performances make it all ring painfully true. Franciosi’s Clare is passionate and driven, a coiled spring waiting to be set free. Claflin’s Hawkins is an utterly despicable villain, and Ganambarr’s Billy is complex and layered. This isn’t an easy story to experience, but it’s one whose power lingers. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Loren King Writer/director Jennifer Kent knows just what she wants in The Nightingale. There’s no soft-pedaling around the brutality and violence central to her story about the dehumanizing and vicious treatment of women and the indigenous people of Australia by men with power during colonization. Read full review.
MaryAnn Johanson Jennifer Kent’s second feature is a brutal upending of the revenge story, and an unapologetic punch to a philosophy that underlies so many of our narratives, one that goes unspoken even as it is celebrated: that of men’s need dominate everything and everyone around them. By tying violence against women to European colonialism, Kent boils so much of the horror in the world down to its root cause, and delivers — even amidst rage, trauma, and pain — a coolly satisfying smack to white supremacy and toxic masculinity. This is a movie we very much need right now.
Sheila Roberts. Kent’s masterful writing and direction foster empathy for the plight of all the characters, both good and bad. She avoids the usual cathartic violence and exploitative storytelling tropes of revenge thrillers we’re accustomed to, and elicits strong, compelling performances. Kent takes an unflinching look at Colonialism — how racism and gender violence affect us, how they have always been used as weapons of war to marginalize and destabilize a vulnerable society, and why compassion is so essential. Read full review.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Writer-director Jennifer Kent’s historical drama The Nightingale should come with a trigger warning, because it’s harrowing and heartbreaking to watch. Not just graphic bloody murder, but crimes-against-humanity-level horrors including infanticide, lynched children, and multiple rape scenes. Kent’s protagonist Clare (Aisling Franciosi, best known for her cameo as Lyanna Stark in Game of Thrones and the Irish crime drama The Fall) experiences the absolute worst men can do to a woman. Franciosi is remarkable as Clare, a beautiful young mother who’s also an Irish convict indentured to a sadistic British officer (Sam Claflin). She survives tragedy and depravity and then singlehandedly seeks vengeance with the help of an Aboriginal guide Billy (Baykali Ganambarr, fantastic in his first film role). Kent’s brutal view of colonial Australia highlights the inhumanity and injustice of violence against women and of empire building.
Marina Antunes Writer/director Jennifer Kent erupted onto the scene in 2014 with her feature debut The Babadook, an impressive first that like it or hate it, was undoubtedly well made and marked Kent as a filmmaker to watch. With The Nightingale, Kent continues to work in the horror genre but her second feature is a completely different beast, a beautifully crafted period drama set in the penal colony of Tasmania in the 1800s. The film delves headfirst into the difficulties of life for everyone on the island; the women who were abused and taken advantage of, the natives who were kidnapped, abused, killed, and whose lands were stolen, and even the soldiers abandoned in the backwoods with food, booze and little else. It’s a daunting, depressing living and The Nightingale is a haunting snapshot of it. It’s raw and unflinching which occasionally makes The Nightingale extremely difficult to watch, but Kent captures the reality of that life in all its brutality as well as the small moments of joy and hope. It’s hard to watch but completely rewarding and the performances from Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr are unforgettable.
Susan Wloszczyna: Like most tales of vengeance against those who harm the loved ones of others, this is sheer discomfort cinema as Kent keeps lobbing violent acts at us – the main source being Sam Claflin’s ambitious, corrupt and sadistic Lieutenant Hawkins. At least she provides us with an odd-couple pair to root for in the form of Aisling Franciosi’s Clare, an Irish convict who sings like a bird, and her native guide Billy (Bykali Ganambarr) as they hunt down Hawkins and his minions together in order to get payback for the crimes he committed against them. At first Clare demeans Billy, calling him boy and bossing him around. But these second-class citizens soon form a bond over their common enemy. Read full review.
Leslie Combemale The Nightingale is an intense, ambitious revenge drama that follows Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi) and Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) as they chase a small group of British soldiers who sexually abused her and killed her whole family. Set in the Tasmanian wilderness in the 1800s, the film is unrelenting in its brutal violence and acts of cruelty, showing rape, murder, and revenge from the female perspective. Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s unique cinematic approach, and her manipulation of the audience through story and action will make for both ardent fans and adamant detractors for the film. Is the scene where a man is beaten to the point of head-mush too much? Those who sympathize with Clare’s passionate need for revenge then come to feel revulsion and bone-deep awareness that nothing will heal Clare’s pain, will appreciate just how far Kent goes in protracted scenes between the victim and those she is hunting. There is also a powerful arc that takes Clare and Billy’s relationship from that of unwilling partners to fierce, formed family. The Nightingale is also beautifully shot. For film lovers willing to take the cinematic journey, it will rank among their favorites of 2019. It tops my list of this year’s best films, and is an indication that Jennifer Kent is well on her way building a body of work that will place her among some of the most renowned auteurs in film. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent’s second superbly conceived and crafted femme-centric feature, is a period drama set in 1825 in the outback of Tasmania, It is the story of Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict who has been transported to the colony for punishment that continues — brutally — even after she’s served her sentence. Clare’s tormentor is the brutal soldier (Sam Clafin) who violates her both physically and emotionally, and viciously murders her husband and baby when she displeases him. Seeking revenge for the heinous crimes, Clare hires an Aboriginal man Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to track the soldier and protect her in the wilderness. Billy has also been the victim of colonial oppressors. He’s seen his entire family killed by colonial soldiers. Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr are brilliant as Clare and Billy, an odd couple who overcome their cultural biases to truly respect and support each other. Their performances elicit tremendous sympathy while they execute most unsympathetic and hard-to-watch acts of violence. The Nightingale is, indeed, a difficult film to watch, but it is most certainly a must see.
Liz Whittemore Jennifer Kent’s long awaited follow-up to the brilliance that is The Babadook, is captivating in a way that is perhaps beyond words. As a mother, this film was exceedingly gut-wrenching, to say the least. I was filled with such sadness and anger at what our leading lady Clare was experiencing, I had to pause the film and physically walk away. The violence portrayed in great detail was relentless. The script has a visceral impact regardless of your gender identity. The Nightingale sends a surge of madness through you, making it a joyful feeling to root for both Clare and her guide Billy. More alike than different from one another, they bond over the rage inducing toxic masculinity they are subjected to. While the film may appear to be about one woman’s journey for revenge, it is equally about the horrors of colonialism, prejudice, and classism. Performances across the board are breathtaking. It is the cinematic anthem for justice we need at this moment in history.
Cate Marquis Writer/director Jennifer Kent follows up her stunning debut film The Babadook with The Nightingale, a searing drama/thriller about Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict in 19th century Australia. Sam Claflin plays British officer Lt. Hawkins, a monster in fine dress, who refuses to let Clare go, enamored of her beauty and her beautiful singing voice. His refusal, and his own brutish nature, set them on a path of violence and death, and then a pursuit through a dangerous jungle landscape, in which Clare is joined by an Aboriginal guide named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr). The journey becomes a Shakespearean tale of vengeance, loss, brutality, heartbreak, and self-discovery, built around the British mistreatment of both the Irish and the indigenous Australians. This is a haunting, moving but violent film, set against a striking landscape and beautifully photographed, a not-to-be-missed film.
Title: The Nightingale
Directors: Jennifer Kent
Principal Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr
Release Date: August 2, 2019
Running Time: 136 minutes
Screenwriter: Jennifer Kent
Distribution Company: IFC Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin