Spoilers will skip this one.
Okey, so this is going to be difficult to review. It’s impossible to call this movie entertaining, but it’s impossible to deny it is gripping either. It’s realistic in its brutality, but the violence is appalling to the point of being sickening. This is not an easy watch. That being said, once you are introduced to the level of suffering of these character, you have to see the whole thing through. There is humanity to be found, although the fowlest kind does take the center stage numerous times.
The Nightingale (2019) was written and directed by Jennifer Kent. It tells the story of an irish female convict named Grace (Aisling Franciosi) who is raped while her husband and baby are murdered by British officers in the middle of Tasmania. She then enlists the help of Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an aboriginal tracker, to track them down with the intention of killing them.
I’ve gone back and forth in my choice to both watch and review this film. The quality of the film cannot be understated. It’s cinematographically beautiful and uses the language of film to express the transition of what its main cast is going through. It also is very human in its portrayal of both the cruelty of colonialism and the suffering of the oppressed. You can’t portray that without violence and the movie does not shy out of its crudest scenes. Grace herself is both oppressed victim and oppressor at first, as she hires Billy to guide her but keeps him at a distance and at gunpoint.
Billy has his own plight. His uncle Charlie (Charlie Jampijinpa Brown) was taken as a guide by the leader of the British post, a man named Hawkins (Sam Claflin) who is directly responsible for rape and murder. Hawkins is the most entitled and self-serving officer and yet a highly accurate portrayal of the toxic attitude and character of the British invasion forces at the time. His companions are not necessarily better, enabling him so they can indulge in their own debauchery or just silently letting him have his way.
The movie has been made in the context of its time period. The invaders brand of colonization and civilization is sheer abuse and brutality towards those they see as inferiors. The movie depicts violence as well as retribution through violent means because there are not other means here. Clare’s growth as a character has a way in which we see the movie as the vegetation changes and the birds fly and chirp above her head. Billy talks about being Mangana, a blackbird, while Clare is called a nightingale by her rapist.
The performances are remarkable and realistic. You never doubt you are seeing these characters going through strife and they react the way you expect. Baykali Ganambarr’s Billy in particular steals the film with charisma, he’s very expressive even while he’s quiet. Aisling Franciosi’s portrayal of Clare’s grief and suffering is devastatingly accurate. Sam Claflin’s Hawkings is played so hateful and toxic that you can’t help but wish his character gets what’s coming to him soon. All that being said, I have to warn you this movie works only in context with its message. There is nothing casual about it, nor does it possess entertainment value.
Recommended with reservations for mature audiences only, and even then I’d ask you might want to look into the full plot and other reviews before you commit to watching it. This is not the movie-action comic-book violence type that passes as entertainment. This is violence portrayed in historic context. I feel obliged to say rape is portrayed in this film, because it is not an entertaining movie to watch and difficult to continue. I’d encourage you to check it on an online streaming service at home so you can pause and stop if you need to. Sensible audiences might need to steer clear of the film.
That will do for now.