The Nightingale Review


Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell and Michael Sheasby

It’s not very often that a film comes around and rocks you to your very core, but that’s what happens with Jennifer Kent’s incredible follow-up to The Babadook, The Nightingale.

I think I might be in love. I think I might be in love with the way Jennifer Kent makes movies. There’s something so unique about the films she’s making and the stories she’s telling.

It’s something that not many people are brave enough to do. In her debut feature-length film, The Babadook, Australian filmmaker Kent opted to make a movie about a horrific bogeyman who comes from a children’s book.

However, The Babadook was about so much more than that. It was about motherhood, family, depression, anxiety, the bond between a mother and son… It was about so much more than just a dark figure with a top hat tormenting a mother and her son.

With her follow-up to The Babadook, Kent wanted to make something historical. Something which could be seen as more than just a ‘spooky’ movie. With The Nightingale, she wanted to reveal the horrors of what happened in the 1820s during the time Australia (more specifically, Tasmania) was a British penal colony.

The Nightingale is set in 1825 in Van Diemen’s Land during what’s since been referred to as the Black War. The film follows Irish convict Clare Carroll (played by Aisling Franciosi) who is a servant for a British Army unit which is commanded by Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin).

Clare asks Hawkins for the letter of recommendation he promised her which is long overdue and would grant her, her husband and her infant daughter their freedom, yet he refuses and proceeds to rape her.

When Clare’s husbands suspect Hawkins hurt his wife, he confronts that Lieutenant and what happens next is one of the most harrowing and upsetting scenes I’ve ever witnessed on-screen.

Hawkins rapes Clare in front of her husband, and when he finally manages to break free from Hawkins’ men who are holding him back, Hawkins kills her husband and one of his men then horribly murders her baby after the infant won’t stop crying.

The Nightingale is one of the most harrowing films of the year

The Nightingale features a breakout performance from Aisling Franciosi

The Nightingale features a breakout performance from Aisling Franciosi. (Credit: Matt Nettheim)

Get me to the soldiers that came by this morning.

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It’s a scene which was met with absolute silence by the audience I was watching the film with who, like me, would have been in a complete state of shock and horror. But this is what’s so powerful about Kent’s filmmaking.

During the scene, there’s actually very little shown on-screen, but that’s what makes it so memorable because your imagination fills in the gaps.

Clare then decides to take her revenge upon Hawkins and his men, and she goes in search for them and manages to secure the help of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr).

Hawkins and his men have gone into the bush with a tracker of their own in order to get to the town of Launceston in hopes of securing his promotion which he was denied by a visiting officer who claimed he wasn’t fit for the position.

The Nightingale, as you might have gathered, is harrowing, brutal, upsetting, disturbing, and it might give you nightmares, but it’s also very real. It’s probably one of the most important films I’ve seen this year because this sort of story doesn’t make its way on our cinema screens that often.

Kent’s spoken on multiple occasions about how difficult it was to get this film funded, and that’s because producers and potential backers are scared by such a traumatic story.

Then there were the reports that people left the screening of the movie at Venice after the harrowing scene I described earlier in which Clare was raped and her husband and baby daughter were murdered.

The thing is, this actually happened, and this is the sort of story that needs to be told. It’s so much more than just a revenge film, and it’s not violent for violence’s sake.

Yes, there are violent scenes in the movie, but they’re depicting something real, events that actually took place, and this is a part of history we’ve tried to gloss over for far too long now.

Jennifer Kent is making important films

The Nightingale is a harrowing yet real tale

The Nightingale is a harrowing yet real tale (Credit: Matt Nettheim)

You can’t kill something once it’s dead.

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The film is backed up by Kent’s incredible script and her wonderful ability behind the camera. Much like The Babadook, The Nightingale is gloriously shot. You can just tell how inhospitable a place they were living in.

You can almost feel the damp, feel the cold, experience the horrible isolation for yourselves whilst watching The Nightingale.

And then you have the cast, which is simply put, spectacular. There has to be a special mention for the film’s core trio of Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin and Baykali Ganambarr.

To think that Franciosi and Ganambarr are relatively new to the acting game (very new in Ganambarr’s case), and they are both remarkable in this picture.

I would hope that The Nightingale catapults both of them into stardom because their characters’ relationship at the core of this story is the film’s heart.

Their relationship isn’t a romantic one. It’s one which evolves over the course of the movie. To begin with, they hate one another, and then they start to learn about each other’s past and way of life, and then they depend on one another, and they finish off by being friends.

If it wasn’t for the moments between Clare and Billy, this film would be nothing but pain and misery, but it’s not thanks to the two of them and their performances.

And then you have Claflin as Hawkins, who I would put down as being one of the most despicable people ever put onto the screen. I would have him as one of cinema’s best ever villains, but I believe that would do a disservice to the real-life story.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again, The Nightingale is the most important film of the year, and one which I am so glad was made.

These sorts of films often don’t find their way onto the big screen, and I feel like it’s exactly where The Nightingale belongs.

The Nightingale is in cinemas across the UK now.

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