Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood
Brutality on screen can hard to watch and in the hands of a lesser director, it can come off as exploitative. When handled well, it can further emphasize the impact of whatever occurs on screen. In the case of The Nightingale, brutality is the point and gets utilized in a way that makes it not only uncomfortable to view, but also relevant to the story.
Living as a prisoner in Australia, the Irish-born Clare (Aisling Franciosi) works to gain her freedom that can only be given by British Lieutenant Hawkins. Clare’s husband already has his freedom and confronts Hawkins about it to negative results. What ensues is Hawkins and two other soldiers raping Clare and murdering her husband and infant child. Clare then embarks on a path of vengeance.
Before discussing any aspect of this film, a proper content warning needs to be given, as the story contains multiple incidences of sexual violence that may make it difficult for some to watch. It made me want to look away and that was surely the intent of Jennifer Kent. Coming off of her critically-acclaimed debut in The Babadook, with many opportunities to take on bigger projects, she chooses to tell this smaller harrowing tale. Kent shows this violence because it’s integral to what occurs later in the film, which includes rage-induced revenge. Plots that occur around revenge tend to have this glamorous or for a lack of better words “badass” feature to them, which takes away from the pain. The Nightingale shows the unglamorous reality of that path even with Clare being completely justified in pursuing it.
The story takes the audience to a history that many might be unaware of, especially Americans. Australia was used during the height of the English empire essentially as a large prison where enemies of the state were held. That presumably explains how Clare ended up there. Mix that with the aboriginal population that faced abuse not unlike in the United States and you have Australia. To get her revenge against Hawkins and his soldiers, Claire enlists the help of an aboriginal man who goes by the name Billy (Baykaki Ganambarr) and even though they are abused by the British in their own ways, they do not come together easily. Kent does not play into the idea that just because we are rooting for our protagonist that she has to be squeaky clean. As most white individuals of that time, Clare harbors racist thoughts towards Billy and she expresses them outwardly, as she believes the stereotypes of his people. Kent refuses to play into this fantasy that Clare would be an anomaly of people living in Australia. Their clashes on their journey present a battle of ideologies and how they see the world.
Not enough can be said about the performance by Aisling Franciosi, who has to take on such a challenging role. You can see the pain she presents with her face and the pure fury that her character Clare expresses throughout the journey. It’s a difficult role for anyone to take on and I am once again thankful that Jennifer Kent was behind the camera for this one.
While exploring the political details of the people inhabiting Australia, this story is pretty straight-forward. It’s harrowing, bloody, and holds nothing back in telling an authentic story about the pain and suffering issued by the British empire on everyone else. It’s such a difficult watch that I have a hard time actually recommending it to anyone because of what occurs during it. For those who want to take this film on just have to prepare for it. Such a well-made film but probably not one that I will ever revisit again.