The Nightingale is now available to rent, buy or stream.
Following her 2014 masterpiece of horror, The Babadook, Jennifer Kent’s second feature is a gut-wrenching journey into the horrors of oppression and colonialism. The Nightingale sears itself into the memory with a rape-revenge thriller that is also a stunning exploration of empire, control and genocide. Set in 1825, British troops are enlarging their territories in Australia by forcibly taking aboriginal land in Tasmania through the genocide of the first nation people. Amid this horror, Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish convict servant owned by Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin). Clare is overdue her freedom and longs to be with her husband and child, but the cruel and power-hungry Hawkins refuses to relinquish his control.
However, as tensions between Clare’s servant husband and Hawkins rise, Clare finds herself and her family the subject of a horrifying act of violence before Hawkins leaves with his troops. Stripped of everything that made her life bearable and complete, Clare hires an aboriginal guide, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), to help her track down Hawkins and his soldiers.
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The Nightingale has already weathered its fair share of criticism before its nationwide cinema release, with some people walking out of several festival screenings due to the sexual violence of the first act. It’s true that the scenes in question are not only brutal but also shocking in nature. However, unlike many horrors, these scenes are not there purely for audience shock and reaction; they reflect the true horror of a masochistic environment circling Clare’s life. But what these folks missed by walking out was a relentless and sharp exploration of white supremacy and Empire, the complexities of displacement, racism and control front and centre as we witness the subjugation of a nation and its individuals.
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Within these themes, Jennifer Kent bravely and boldly interrogates xenophobia and colonisation; however, these deep and challenging themes also create a dilemma at the heart of the film. Here we have a narrative wrapped in the differing experiences of the colonial process and those who suffered under its oppression. However, the film’s runtime does not always allow the Irish and First Nation experiences to find their voice. Equally, linking the two cultural experiences is problematic. For example, while Clare’s people were undoubtedly subject to barbarism and racism, Billy’s people were subject to genocide. These are challenging and urgent discussions on British history that deserve full exploration but occasionally lack space and time.
However, The Nightingale is a film of extraordinary power, with performances that echo the horror and darkness prevalent in the founding of Australia. Here we find a deeply rooted need to uncover the truths of colonialism; unflinching and uncompromising power, control, violence and genocide.
Director: Jennifer Kent