The Nightingale – a gut-wrenching journey into the horrors of colonialism


The Nightingale is now available to rent, buy or stream.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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. Set in 1825, as British troops enlarged their territories in Australia by forcibly taking aboriginal land in Tasmania, Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish convict servant owned by Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin), who is overdue for her freedom and longs to be with her husband and child. But the cruel and power-hungry Hawkins refuses to relinquish control, and as tensions between Clare’s servant husband and Hawkins rise, Clare finds herself and her family the subject of a horrifying act of violence. 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.


The Nightingale weathered criticism before its nationwide cinema release, with some critics walking out of several festival screenings due to the sexual violence of the first act. The scenes in question are not only brutal but also shocking. However, 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.


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. 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 a clear 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, despite this, 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.



Australia’s complex, violent and colonial history has been reflected through several influential films over the years, from Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale to Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence and Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country. High Ground never quite matches the power of these films as its gut-wrenching story of imperialism, genocide, and cultural appropriation embraces an almost John Ford Western style. But that doesn’t mean High Ground does not contain moments of brutal honesty as we follow Gutjuk (Guruwuk Mununggurr), a young indigenous boy taken into the care of a mission following the slaughter of his family. Through Gutjuk’s journey, High Ground asks us to reflect on the ongoing horror of colonialism and its horrific legacy of superiority, enslavement and genocide.

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