The Nightingale written and directed by Jennifer Kent is a masterpiece. Now that’s not a word I just throw around. What Kent does here is truly masterful in the way she is using film to show the ills of history, the cost of colonization, on both the colonized and the colonizer, and most importantly the toll that revenge takes on both its avenger and their target. While yes, the film is having some trouble with audiences leaving very early on, due to realistic brutality, I think The Nightingale is important and should be recognized for being so.
Aisling Franciosi plays Clare, a convict from Ireland who is trapped in an impossible situation. After serving most of her time in the horrific conditions of the Van Diemen’s Land penal system, she is dragged into a living nightmare and seeks revenge on those who have wronged her. Franchosi embodies the character of Clare brilliantly as her performance stretches across the whole spectrum of human emotions and they all are very clearly emoted throughout the film especially in the very hard and nearly impossible emotions one can relate or would want to reenact even in a dramatic setting. Even though it might be hard to connect with her experiences due to the nature of them, you want to root for her and have her come out okay on the other side at the end of the story and throughout The Nightingale, I had no idea how her story was going to end. Clare goes through so much trauma in such a short period of time and she’s processing thousands of large scale ideas and emotions all at once and you can tell through Franchosi’s performance how much a herculean task this must’ve been.
Sam Claflin plays Lieutenant Hawkins, Clare’s cruel master who does unspeakable things throughout the entire film. He’s not the Claflin that you see in the romantic movies your mom would eat up, no he is an absolute monster in The Nightingale. However, we as the audience can tell his motivations behind his terrible actions within the film, he wants success and power, and love in a loveless place and he’ll take any chance he can get to feel those things, even if it destroys everyone around him even if they idolize him, are supposed to be protected by him, or are impressed by him, he uses and abuses those people to get what he wants at all costs. Claflin plays all of this with so much emotional depth that he becomes Hawkins and he doesn’t let up at all throughout The Nightingale
Baykali Ganambarr plays Billy, a Lettermairrener man, (one of the native peoples of Tasmania) who is deeply scarred by the effects of colonization. He is hired by Clare to track down her enemies and along this journey, Billy eventually sees and empathizes with the struggle that Clare has gone through in both her personal and national struggle. Ganambarr seizes the opportunity he is given as both a new actor and as a member of the aboriginal community in that he is able to tell the story of his people’s genocide by colonization, a story not known by many outside of Australia, and to bring a sense of how his people would have reacted in the situations that his character was in. For a first-time actor, I was blown away with his emotional intelligence and how he was able to convey Billy’s and his peoples’ experiences and confronting the brutality that was brought about by colonization.
One other actor, I’d like to mention is Harry Weaving, son of Hugo Weaving who plays Jago, a new soldier to the British army who really just hit me so emotionally with just one line. He has a very small but very significant role in The Nightingale. The marriage of the underlying themes, the historical emphasis and contexts, really bring about these great performances and make the film such an amazing and important film going experience.
Kent and the cinematographer Radosław Ładczukbeautifully incorporate the bush of Tasmania, and its natural surroundings as well as the use of a muted color palate to tell this story in which there is little to no reason to be bright and colorful about. Usually in historical films, I don’t like the use of dark cinematography to portray a place or time in the past, but in The Nightingale it works so well because of the dark and terrible concepts and actions within the film, and it just looks gorgeous especially at the end of the film. What I was most impressed with was its attention to historical detail in its context, accuracy, exploration of the period’s ideas and how we can learn from history.
When you experience The Nightingale, you are transported into the 19th century as the film was thoroughly researched by Jennifer Kent, who wanted to tell the story as she felt it important to delve into the beginnings of her country’s history. When I say, the audience is transported, you are not only seeing the costumes, the weapons, tools, or how everyday life was during that time period in Van Diemen’s Land for all of the people living there, but the audience is also brought into the mindsets of the soldiers, the convicts, and the aboriginal peoples. Kent’s writing clearly shows how deep she delved.
As an audience member, you see and know the philosophies of the time period in each of the characters without ever knowing their specific names and schools from the history books you read in high school or college. Some of these include racial superiority, classism, sexism and nationalism. We see how they impact the actions that the characters choose to make and the consequences that come with them. Through showing the philosophies we see and their extremely violent results we as the human race can learn from these philosophies and ideas and how we can prevent them and the actions associated with them from happening as they still continue to happen today. We need art to challenge us so that we can learn to become a more compassionate society. The Nightingale can teach us that revenge is a futile cycle, that in the most violent of times there can still be hope in the love and compassion we can have for one another.
I could talk endlessly about The Nightingale and how much of a masterpiece it truly is! I highly recommend that you see it, even if you aren’t good with violence, the message that is driven home in the end of the film is worth fighting and if you have to, looking away through the first twenty minutes. If you are intrigued by my thoughts on it and the trailers do yourself a favor and go see the triumphant historical masterpiece that is The Nightingale.