THE NIGHTINGALE - Review - We Are Movie Geeks



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Baykali Ganambarr as “Billy” and Aisling Franciosi as “Clare” in Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release. Photo by Matt Nettheim

The writer/director of THE BABADOOK, Jennifer Kent, follows up the chilling horror film with a gripping drama set in 1825 Australia, a tale of violence and revenge that is almost Shakespearean. THE NIGHTINGALE is a tale of vengeance but it is also a story of self-discovery, and of finding a common human bond with someone who appears at first quite different.

“Nightingale” is the nickname given to a beautiful Irish convict, Clare (Aisling Franciosi), for her golden singing voice, by the British troops at the remote Tasmanian outpost where she has served out her sentence. Clare is in the custody of British officer Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin), but she has served her sentence, and with both a husband and baby now, she wants to be released. However, Hawkins, who is both taken with Clare’s beauty and seething with resentment at being stuck at the remote post, refuses to let her go and treats her abusively. When her husband Aiden (Michael Sheasby) demands her release, matters escalate to shocking violence. Hawkins suddenly departs on a dangerous journey north, in pursuit of a promotion, with a vengeful Clare pursuing the lieutenant. The dense forest they must traverse is a treacherous place, in the grips of what became known as the Black War, and Clare enlists an Aboriginal guide named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to help her, after no friend is willing to accompany her on the harrowing journey.

THE NIGHTINGALE is a thought-provoking, brilliantly-directed drama but it is also a shockingly violent film, with some sequences audiences are likely to find hard to watch. The film’s themes of violence, vengeance, ambition and lust are truly Shakespearean, but this is also an intelligent, moving human drama about identity and human connections. It also touches, indirectly and deftly, on a host of other issues, such as unequal status of women in the time period, the Irish-English conflict, and the treatment of Aboriginal people.

THE NIGHTINGALE is a more graphic and violent film that Jennifer Kent’s first film, the horror film THE BABADOOK, but it has the same level of nail-biting suspense and tension. The film’s combination of historically-set drama with serious subject matter and violent, pulse-pounding thriller action keeps us hooked but on edge throughout. It is an uneasy combination but it is a worthy film nonetheless.

The cast is superb. Watching Aisling Franciosi transform from submissive convict to a force of vengeance to grieving woman and back is an astonishing experience. Sam Claflin, so often cast as a sympathetic lead, gets to play a true monster as the British officer, and he is excellent as he mines Hawkins’ layers of ambition, arrogance and resentment. Baykali Ganambarr as the Aboriginal tracker Billy has the pivotal role in this tale, transforming the story from a vengeance thriller into something deeper and more complex.

THE NIGHTINGALE is an impressive film, beautifully shot and acted, a gripping thriller but a film with something to say. Hopefully, audiences will not be discouraged by its violent scenes and then miss out on its deeper human message.

THE NIGHTINGALE opens Friday, Aug. 16, at Landmark’s Tivoli Theater.

RATING: 4 out of 4 stars

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