The film “The Nightingale” stars Aisling Franciosi (Game of Thrones) as Clare. She is a maid and provides musical entertainment by singing for a group of British soldiers. Clare doesn’t do either willingly; she is forced to, because she committed a crime, and the work and entertainment she has been providing is part of her punishment. Clare has completed her time but, the self absorbed and despicable, Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Clafin) uses Clare for more than her maid services and singing voice, and refuses to give her the necessary letter which would grant Clare her freedom. Hawkins might view her as inferior, because he feels, that as a woman and an Irish woman at that, she is beneath him, but as long as he’s stationed at that particular military post, he wants to keep her around.
Aidan, (Michael Sheasby) Clare’s husband, implores Hawkins to let Clare go, but his pleas are met with rejection. Not too long into the film, Aidan and Clare’s situation goes from bad to worse. Clare lives through a horrific ordeal, which includes her being raped. The brutality is carried out by Hawkins and two of his troops, Ruse (Damon Harriman) and Jago (Harry Greenwood).
While a viewer might at first think that what is being presented is a simple revenge tale, that has been done numerous times before, it’s not. Clare first attempts to seek justice against those who wronged her, but those in power don’t want to hear accusations against so called respectable men from a criminal. Even as Clare sets about on her journey to relentlessly pursue Hawkins and his men for the atrocious acts they committed against her and her family, she feels guilt, that torments her.
The story takes place in 1825, in Van Diemen’s Land, which is modern day Tasmania, an island state of Australia. Historically, during the time the film deals with, there is a violent conflict between British colonists and Aboriginals. The conflict is known as the ‘Black Wars.’ Clare having been born and raised in Ireland, was sent to Van Diemen’s Land to serve out her punishment. Other than the area where she lives and works, she is not familiar with the island, and therefore must hire a tracker to safely lead her through the terrain to the town where Hawkins and his men have gone; the Lieutenant is seeking a promotion to captain. (As an aside: The language spoken by the Aboriginals is called Palawa Kani and is almost extinct. The movie is the first time that the language has been spoken in a mainstream film).
Clare hires Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) an Aboriginal tracker. The on screen chemistry shared by Franciosi and Ganambarr is what propels the majority of the film forward. Ironically, Clare views Billy as someone she can order around and doesn’t feel he has the intellectual capacity to understand what she has gone through, and why she must continue with her quest, to make sure that Hawkins and her men get what they have coming to them. Viewers will notice, over time, Clare’s mindset regarding Billy will begin to change. For example, she begins to refrain from calling him boy and instead uses his name. Billy, views Clare in a different light, when he finds out she is Irish and he understands that the two of them both despise the British for the wrongs they have perpetrated against each of them individually.
“The Nightingale” was written and directed by Jennifer Kent (The Babadook). The film had its premier on September 6, 2018 at the Venice Film Festival. Comprised of the genres of adventure, drama and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 136 minutes. The pace of the harrowing and powerful film is well executed. This is not the sort of movie where, every once in a while, I was checking my watch to see what time it was. I was invested in what I was watching.
Those interested in seeing the film should take note that there are several brutal scenes which are shown during the film. Although these scenes may be uncomfortable to watch, the violence is not gratuitous; each scene serves a purpose to the overall story, as they pertain to character motivation or presenting the true nature of certain individuals. For those seeking a different take on the standard revenge film, with the knowledge that certain scenes will be difficult to watch, this is the sort of film that should hold most viewers’ interest from start to finish.