Gang raped and left for dead, her husband and baby murdered, when the local authorities refuse to take action against the gang of soldiers responsible, Irish convict Claire (Aisling Franciosi) swears vengeance, pursuing the brutal and ambitious Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Clafin) and his men into 1830s Tasmania’s deadly, impenetrable bush. But the bush is a dangerous place for a woman alone particularly as the white settlers are waging a vicious, genocidal campaign against the native people, the so called ‘Black War’, both sides committing atrocities, killing guilty and innocent alike. 

Unable to make the perilous journey on her own she enlists the aid of young indigenous tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr). Divided by racism and mutual mistrust and initially hostile towards one another, both traumatised by their respective ill treatment, Claire and Billy slowly start to find the shared humanity within one another, to break down their barriers and find empathy, confronting the violence and genocide that gave birth to modern Australia and the true cost of revenge…

Gripping, dripping and visceral, The Nightingale is an Aussie Gothic revenge drama that is beautiful and bleak in equal measure, writer/director Jennifer Kent deploying excessive – but crucially, not gratuitous – violence to deliver a searing indictment of the institutional racism and misogyny beating at the dark heart of Australian society and its roots in Empire and British Colonialism that unfolds over a leisurely 136 minutes of unflinching brutality. It’s a harrowing, deeply upsetting, exquisitely crafted vision of Manifest Destiny, that pulls no punches in its depiction of the everyday cruelties of colonial life where women are the bottom of the heap, outnumbered 8 to 1 by the men, and the native Aboriginal population aren’t even considered human, hunted to the brink of extinction, massacred by the Army and vigilante settlers alike, Claire and Billy both recipients of and witnesses to casual brutality.

As the villainous Hawkins, Claflin is reminiscent of a younger, rapier Sean Bean, his sociopathic young officer a vicious thug, driven by ambition and a desire for advancement, using violence and rape as weapons, a physical embodiment of British Colonialism and patriarchal privilege with strong support from Damon Herriman as the weaselly Sergeant Ruse, a weak-willed bully, a snivelling sidekick. Baykali Ganambarr is wonderful in his first major role as Billy, ably shouldering his share of the story as Kent shifts the focus of the film away from Claire’s quest for revenge, focusing increasingly instead on the treatment of Billy and the native population while Aisling Franciosi is stunning as Claire, her performance both heartbreaking and ferocious, Claire and Billy’s organically evolving relationship from racist distrust to understanding forms the spine of the film.

There’s an elephant in the room though that must be addressed. With it’s simmering sense of near constant dread and its unrelenting violence, Kent’s film is a tough watch with more rape than a season of Game of Thrones, the inherent misogyny of patriarchal Australia bubbling away under the surface, always threatening to boil over. Exploring the impact of trauma and violence The Nightingale is a gruelling, bruising experience that practically dares you to look away.

Movie Review: The Nightingale
5.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

About The Author