In 2014 Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook was released. The
ultra-creepy Australian film was her first feature and it was the highest of
quality. The film won a host of awards as did the director. It’s a hard film
for any director to follow up. Bring on October 2018 and Jennifer’s second
feature film The Nightingale has just
had its Australian Premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival.
Set in the early 1800’s
the film centres on Clare, a young Irish convict whom is waiting on her freedom
from a British officer, Hawkins, so her and her husband Aidan and their son can
finally put the past behind them and move on with their lives. The British
officer that can grant Clare her freedom is obsessed with her beauty. This causes
tension between the young Irish family, and after an extremely violent
confrontation Clare is left for dead. Upon coming to terms with the events, a
recovered Clare hires a young Aboriginal tracker, Billy, whom has a tragic past
of his own, to help her track down those that harmed her.
Clare is portrayed by
Aisling Franciosi and she is great in the role. Her character transforms from
confident, independent convict on the way to freedom to a completely broken,
yet determined woman and Aisling displays this perfectly. Whether it’s
confidently standing up for herself against a group of drunk soldiers or
breaking down in tears on the forest floor, Aisling does it all. She displays
anger, compassion, and empathy and really makes the performance her own.
Aiden is played by
Michael Sheasby who is stellar. He is absolutely determined to free his wife
from the clutches of the British officer Hawkins and his frustration and
torture shows. At the same time he is able to believably show his love for his
Baykali Ganambarr is
Billy. He is a force. His performance is great, and it earned him the Marcello
Mastroianni Award for best young actor/actress at the Venice Film Festival.
Billy is also broken, he was stolen from his family to be treated like a dog.
His distrust for Clare shows but his commitment to his word is also prevalent
to him. Clare and Billy share a very complicated relationship. Two people that,
essentially, hate each other are forced to work together but it is not always
like this. As Clare and Billy venture further into the wilderness to get their
targets their relationship deepens. A trust begins to form, and the pair are
able to bond over their tragic experiences. It is a joy to watch the characters
develop together, to begin to care for one another when caring for nothing in
Sam Claflin plays British
officer Hawkins and he is a great villain. He is a complete menace, not only to
Clare but to his own regiment. Determined to be promoted he will stop at almost
nothing to get what he wants. Long time character actor Damon Herriman is also
a part of the fray as British officer Ruse. He is also a tormentor of Clare’s
and he also make for a great villain. He is a complete psychopath and yet, also
a complete coward when it comes to Hawkins.
The violence in the film
is a is something that will leave viewers stunned. During the premiere many
people were in complete shock over what they saw, me included at times. But
realistically, the only real reason it is an issue is because it is an
Australian film – we are not used to seeing such shocking scenes thrust upon us
in Australian movies. The film is not shy on bringing in historically accurate
content either – Aboriginal people chained, massacred and decapitated is
displayed on screen and while people were again shocked at these scenes, if
they read a bit more about Australia’s shocking treatment of Aboriginal people
during colonial times (not that it’s all better now), they would be even more
so. No stone is left unturned though, every demographic is affected by violence
here – take that as a warning if you have a weak stomach.
It really is an exciting
time for Australian cinema – with more and more risky films being made. Not
long ago you would be hard pressed to find a film that demonstrates what
colonisation did to Aboriginal people, but in the last few years several have
The cinematography is also beautiful. Shot in Tasmania you couldn’t ask for more beautiful scenery. Radek Ladczuk, who also did the cinematography on The Babadook has done an absolutely phenomenal job here. Writer/director Jennifer Kent has put together an amazing film. A tale of not only revenge, but also healing and it is absolutely beautiful to watch. With her ability to be completely uncompromising in what she wants to portray I really look forward to her next entry. May it be bigger and bolder.
Director: Jennifer Kent Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin Writer: Jennifer Kent
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