Do you love a good old fashion puppet show or are you a fan of Italian commedia dell’arte? Then there’s a good chance you’ve seen the puppets Mr. Punch and his wife Judy during the “Punch and Judy” theatre show.
Wile the stories of Punch and Judy originate in the 16th century, they’re still very much alive. Even in 2019, fans are spreading their love for the show and writer/director Mirrah Foulkes is one of them. With this exciting, dark, mysterious and bombastic “Judy and Punch” she has the audience like puppets on a string.
When you go to the seaside, you know that you will see a nice white beach with clear blue water and a heating sun. Well, that’s not the case in this film.
Seaside is the name of a small village surrounded by mountains, trees and yes, some water as well. It’s there where people still live like back in the old days: fabric clothes, candles, and stoves as the main light and heat supply and local markets are still a thing. It’s also a town where witch-hunting is still alive for some strange reason.
Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman) are the main acts of the town. They please their audience every night with their carefully crafted puppets that put on a violent and dark display.
Judy just seems the “bottler” for her husband’s show as she collects money beforehand and introduces him, but during the show, it becomes clear who has the real talent.
While the couple makes some money every night, they still need to find their way to stardom. A big break is all that they need and that might just be around the corner… if Punch could keep his drinking problem under control.
It’s an addiction that not only affects his professional but also personal life. One night, one moment of weakness and one drink too much sadly results in multiple deaths, of which one of them is Judy.
While he’s trying to fight his way out of his mess by looking for someone to blame for those deaths, Judy is still alive. Barely but not in her grave yet.
After being left to die in the woods, she’s now being taken care of by a group of happy outlaws right outside Seaside. While getting her strength back slowly, she plots her revenge on Punch, who has now gone completely off the tracks.
There’s just one small problem: if she returns to Seaside after being declared dead, she will be accused of being a witch and if she doesn’t return, the greed and need for revenge will tear her apart from the inside out. She’s facing the most important and difficult decision of her life. Which will it be?
At first sight, Judy and Punch seem a lovely couple and especially with their lovely baby and their mutual passion for puppeteering. It’s just when you take a closer look that you will see cracks in their relationship. The alcohol problem, mental and physical abuse, and the adultery.
In the beginning, Judy shows her lovely side as the wife and mother but that slowly turns into a darker and vengeful one. Punch seems to be a dedicated husband and father but underneath the layers of makeup, he’s just an abusive, aggressive and irresponsible drunk. There are even signs of a split personality especially when his time is running out.
As you notice there are a lot of different aspects connected to each character and casting director Kirsty McGregor did an outstanding job to find the perfect actors to portray these complex characters.
You will love the strong, magnificent, subtle but also big performance from Wasikowska (“Alice Through the Looking Glass”, “Crimson Peak”) as the loving, fierce and tenacious woman.
Herriman has been recently bringing out the best and worst of Charles Manson (in both “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” and “Mindhunter”) and Ruse (in “The Nightingale”) and this time he pulls it off again with great flair, craftsmanship, and versatility as the diabolical and abusive Punch.
It was also amazing to see so many “ordinary” woman in this movie. They came in all different sizes and shapes and that’s something we sadly don’t see enough in current films.
The great performances are supported by the stunning work of costume designer Edie Kurzer and production designer Josephine Ford. They bring that 17th-century era gorgeous to live. It seems that it was the time during which the houses were still filled with bottles of booze, silver dinner plates, wooden furniture, and fireplaces.
There were no brick houses but just straw and people were just having simple and worn-out clothes. Yep, we’re being transformed back to that time in a blink of an eye.
Not only visually does “Judy and Punch” do the trick but also sound-wise. The multiple and polyphonic voices, the heavily beating drums and the piercing violins create a Tim Burton-ish score which gives “Judy and Punch” an even more Gothic, mysterious and fantastical vibe. Congratulations are in order for music supervisor Jemma Burns and her music department.
“Judy and Punch” is the full-length film debut of Foulkes and she instantly pulls an incredibly enjoyable movie out of her hat. With remarkable team and strong performances of the overall cast, she creates an action-packed, theatrical, entertaining and dark movie.
The film will have its UK release on the 15th of November but you can check it out during the BFI Film Festival London on the 12th and 13th of October.