Sunday, 26 April 2020

Movie review: The Nightingale, dir Jennifer Kent (2018)

A curious movie that involves injustice on the colonial frontier in early 19th century Australia, ‘The Nightingale’ stars Aisling Franciosi as a convict named Clare who is mistreated by a cruel soldier named Hawkins (Sam Claflin). In response, she embarrasses Hawkins in front of a senior officer. To make contact with the colonial authorities and save his career, Hawkins sets out through the bush, trying to reach Launceston, a town (still, today, in existence) at the northern extremity of the island of Tasmania which, at the time of the movie’s setting, was named Van Diemen’s Land, a separate colony of Great Britain. Separate, that is, from New South Wales, which was the entity that then existed in 1825 on the mainland.

Clare’s goal is to take revenge on Hawkins. In preparation for her journey through the unpopulated bush, she finds an Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), paying him a shilling with the promise of another when they reach the party that has gone ahead and that comprises, in addition to Hawkins, a sergeant named Ruse (Damon Herriman), a private named Jago (Harry Greenwood), two adult convicts and a boy of about 11 years named Eddie (Charlie Shotwell).

The bulk of the movie comprises a chase through spectacular bushland but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the level or frequency of violence evident in the film, nor by some of the writing which seems, in parts, to owe a bit too much to modern crime drama. You wonder how anything at all gets done in the colony with the quantity of killing and brutality evident in Kent’s Van Diemen’s Land. On the other hand you have cultivated gentry walking calmly down the main road to Launceston. The dissonance that arises from watching the film, which has some great scenes in it, is remarkable. A musket of 1825, furthermore, is not the same thing as a modern pistol, and the status of convicts in the colonies was I think not as bad as the film portrays. Nevertheless, this film, which I saw on Amazon Prime, is well-shaped and at least effective in conveying a message, however odd that message is. Clare is certainly more convincing a character than the dastardly Hawkins.

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