Judy & Punch
12th October 2019 8.45pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
13th October 2019 2.00pm at Odeon Leicester Square
Punch & Judy is the perfect allegory for the self-perpetuated patriarchy: kids watch wide-eyed as men beat women into submission. Judy & Punch inverts this twisted tradition, imagining how the story would have played out if it were a woman pulling the strings. Mirrah Foulkes gently manipulates her marionettes, giving us a feature debut that plays out like a feminist fairy-tale.
In the town of Seaside (rather charmingly footnoted as “nowhere near the sea”), husband and wife Punch (Damon Herriman) and Judy (Mia Wasikowska) stage a puppet show for alcohol-addled locals. The odiously narcissistic Punch dreams of taking their production to the Big Smoke, but his dangerous egomania, paired with his insatiable thirst for booze, lead his violent performance to break tragically into real life. In the real world, however, Judy refuses to lie down and take the beatings, embarking on a path of justice.
Wasikowska makes a timeless heroine, both gentle and fierce, her character never submitting to mindless brutality even in the midst of her rage. Herriman’s portrayal walks a delicate line between repugnant and pitiful. Though outwardly powerful, his violence is weak, outshone always by the strength of his wife’s resilience. But in this offbeat movie, the line is not always clear. Foulkes’s screenplay ingeniously incorporates elements of slapstick that challenge our idea of what is funny, and sometimes we are on the cusp of laughter before the brutality catches in our throats. The writing also crafts comedy from the contrast between the 17th-century setting and more contemporary character types – such as the sensitive policeman in a community that buzzes with exclamations of “happy stoning day!”.
Indeed, the director creates a wonderful collage of old and new, the film woven with references to 21st-century culture – the highlight being a gloriously recontextualised quote from Gladiator. The soundtrack also transcends time, flicking between resonant synths and acoustic guitar renditions of classic folk tunes. We are sitting in a different age, but the story is the same. Indeed, the period element allows Foulkes to draw on the oft-traversed misogynist minefield that is witchcraft and ask a pertinent question: how might history have progressed if this culture of persecution had not flourished? Her playful flaunting of historical accuracy allows her to update attitudes and bring progress centuries before it was actually achieved – if it ever was.
Judy & Punch is a whimsical tale that, though sometimes overstated in its unconventional style, successfully turns barbarism into inventive and unexpectedly uplifting satire.
Judy & Punch is released in select cinemas on 22nd November 2019.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Judy & Punch here: