Its dive into Australia’s violent colonial past makes some scenes in The Nightingale difficult viewing – perhaps meaning they should be watched with an even closer eye. Superbly acted and unflinchingly honest, this is a highly anticipated second feature from critically-acclaimed director Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), who returns with this story about violence and revenge from the perspective of two people who have lost all they hold dear.
In the savaged land of nineteenth-century Tasmania, Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is an indentured servant to the narcissistic Englishman Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin), who took her from prison to serve out the rest of her sentence at his barracks. But Clare’s sentence ended months ago and Hawkins has repeatedly refused to release her from his care. When Clare’s husband, Aidan (Michael Sheasby), confronts the officer, the family becomes victim of a harrowing crime, and Clare embarks on a path of revenge that takes her deep into the bush.
The long-suffering young Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), who saw his entire family murdered by English colonists, joins Clare as a guide. Ganambarr lifts the mood on occasion with moments of wonderful comic timing and an authenticity that is truly heartwarming, despite Billy’s tragic circumstances. Together Clare and Billy must navigate the path, learning to understand each other’s trauma and weigh up the true price of revenge.
Each actor delivers a performance worthy of a standing ovation, truly delving into the pain and horror of what their character has endured and what they force others to endure. Claflin is the most surprising of all as the ruthless deviant Hawkins. Having primarily played dashing romantic protagonists, Claflin goes with frightening realism into the psyche of a man addicted to power and unable to control his rage.
From the opening scene, the movie strikes as something truly unique. So easily it could have been a gratuitous period drama, glossing over the reality of colonisation as many films have done before. But entrenched in historical accuracy, The Nightingale is a multi-faceted exploration of the dark, destructive side of humanity. But humanity, nonetheless.
The Nightingale is released in select cinemas on 29th November 2019.
Watch the trailer for The Nightingale here: