In 2014, writer/director Jennifer Kent made furore with her first English feature film “The Babadook”. It was an enormous success with 56 wins out of its 61 award nominations and it did put Kent on the film map. It must have been a hard and difficult task to make the perfect successor but with “The Nightingale” she did it!
The movie takes you back to 1825. The young Irish woman Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is living with her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) and child in Tasmania. Life hasn’t been kind to the family at all: They have almost no provisions or luxury and while the couple works countless hours, they earn very little money.
It seems that the hard times aren’t about to change soon, especially not for Clare. In the years before meeting her husband, she had been living in prison until a lieutenant named Hawkins (Sam Claflin) got her out. Seems like a fairytale story, isn’t it?
It’s not. After helping her out, the rough tough and dominating soldier is now treating her as his possession. Clare has to endure things no woman should go through: rape, violence and verbal abuse. Sometimes she can escape the abuse by singing for him but even then she’s been put under a lot of pressure. Hawkins rules over her life and one night that life is completely being brutally turned upside down by him and his British military men.
While trying to cope with the shocking events that just struck her, Clare is out for revenge. Hawkins and his soldiers are making their way up north where he will be offered a better position in the army. Clare sees this as the perfect opportunity for vengeance and buys herself a ‘boy’ Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), a poor black man who has to guide her to her destination.
At first, both of them despise each other but they have to stick together and rely on each other. From conquering an untamed river to staying out of the hands of barbaric men and from having to deal with unpredictable weather to climbing unseen heights. If this isn’t enough for then, Clare is also suffering from nightmares and dark visions. Will they be able to catch up with Hawkins or will the demanding and stressful journey be too difficult?
Since this film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September, it was awarded multiple prizes such as the incredibly well-deserved one for Baykali Ganambarr (“Best Young Actor or Actress”) and multiple ones for the director herself. Pretty sure that the movie will get more awards after its global release.
Most of them will probably go to Franciosi (“The Fall” (TV), “Genius” (TV”)). Just like Hawkins, we’re astonished and captivated by how beautiful and graceful she sings. Franciosi doesn’t only show us her superb singing talents but also her strong acting abilities. She brings every layer of her character in a sublime way to life. Loving and caring as the mother and wife, broken and weak as Hawkins’ possession and determined, fierce and ferocious as the woman who’s out for revenge for the injustice that’s been done to her.
After portraying an army captain in “Journey’s End”, Sam Claflin (“Adrift”) is now putting his uniform back on as the lieutenant. It seems that putting on those boots on brings out the best of Claflin and the worst out of his characters. Hawkins shows no mercy at all, has no compassion or no emotions whatsoever, apart from when he hears Clare sing.
If you want a great actor who can put on a violent, rough but also emotional and moving performance, then Claflin needs to be the number one on your casting list. When he and Franciosi are coming together, those scenes are the harshest but also most haunting scenes of the film.
As the “boy” we see Baykali Ganambarr who makes an outstanding movie debut with an extremely believable, human and compassionate performance as the man who wants to pick up his life again after going through an incredibly rough time. There’s the undeniable chemistry between Ganambarr and Franciosi as they’re both portraying repressed people who had to feel the power of the white masculinity that was ruling during that time. It kind of is this the case today.
Stunning support comes from Damon Herriman (“Judy and Punch”, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”) as the Britsh army man Ruse who’s even more ruthless and violent than Hawkins and Harry Greenwood (“Hacksaw Ridge”, “True History of the Kelly Gang”) as Hacksaw Ridge, the only soldier with a heart, kindness and the capability of not raping any woman who’s coming close to him. Michael Sheasby (“Hacksaw Ridge”, “Felony”) is also lovely as Aidan, Clare’s loving, protective and headstrong husband.
There are also other great aspects of “The Nightingale” apart from the sublimes performances. It’s the first mainstream film in which palawa kani is spoken by the Tasmanian aboriginals. It’s a language that is almost extinct in real life so it’s wonderful to see that it’s being used in this film. While this movie takes place in 1825, the messages behind it couldn’t be more relevant.
Most women in this world can decide whatever they want without being repressed by men but sadly that’s not for everyone. The storyline of Clare and Hawkins about female suppression by men and them being beated and verbal abused is sadly something that could easily take place today. “The Knightingale” also addresses the oppression of black people and minorities by white men. While it seems a far-from-our-bad, this still happens. Not as much as in the early days though. This movie highlights some social different issues. Issues that shouldn’t exist anymore.
This movie seems to go the same way as “The Babadook” and that’s no surprise. “The Nightingale” is an immensely powerful, haunting, dark and movie film about socially important issues. The strong performances, with the one from Franciosi as frontrunner, makes this feature complete.