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 family.
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 the beginning.
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 been released.
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