Review: The Nightingale

Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr in The Nightingale. Photo by Matt Nettheim.

The Nightingale

Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent
Produced by Kristina Ceyton, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky and Jennifer Kent
Starring Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood and Ewen Leslie 

“You should feel uncomfortable. That’s the point.”


by Matthew Eeles

Let’s cut to the chase. Are you prepared to sit through that scene? The controversial one at the beginning of The Nightingale in which the film’s lead character, Clare, is raped while her baby is murdered?

This scene will be unbearable for some, so it’s important you’re aware of it before you commit to seeing The Nightingale

That scene is not the only moment of shocking horror viewers will have to endure throughout The Nightingale. There’s more rape and there’s more bloody murder commited by the film’s characters – good and evil.

Set in 1825 Tasmania, or Van Diemen’s Land as it was then known, The Nightingale follows Claire, a young Irish convict who sets out into the unforgiving wilderness to get revenge on the men who raped her and killed her family. To give you an idea of how terrible these men are, actor Sam Claflin, who plays Lieutenant Hawkins in the film, said recently that this is the closest he will ever come to playing the Devil.

The film’s director, Jennifer Kent, shows no restraint when it comes to her depiction of these abominable men, their racism, and the violence they inflicted during Australia’s colonial period. And why should she? This was a dark time in Australia’s history, so you should feel uncomfortable. That’s the point.

Baykali Ganambarr in The Nightingale.

Other than being a psychological nightmare narratively, Kent’s sophomore masterpiece is a staggering technical success. From Radek Ladczuk’s claustrophobic cinematography to Alex Holmes’ convincing production design and Margot Wilson’s impeccable costumes, The Nightingale is a film of very high quality – the likes of which we haven’t seen in Australia since Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country.

The Nightingale is also flawlessly performed by everyone involved. While Damon Herriman, Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, and Ewen Leslie are all outstanding, they’re overshadowed by Aisling Franciosi’s harrowing performance. Her moments of pure rage are unforgettable. 

What a relief Australian filmmakers get colonial period films so right more often than not.

The Nightingale is in cinemas from August 29.

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