We need to talk about Jennifer Kent. We need to talk about her sophomore effort, The Nightingale. We need to talk about this seemingly-ignored masterstroke, a brutal, unforgiving watch (and at times it is near unwatchable), that attempts to unpick the atrocities committed due to British colonialism. We need to talk about how a talented female genre director has used the credibility gained through directing one of the great horror films of the past decade to produce this ferocious, brilliant work. We need to talk about all of this.
The film focuses in on Irish convict Clare, living a difficult life in a Tasmanian colony. A loving wife and mother, she attracts the attention of a British officer that leads to acts of unspeakable violence being mitigated upon her. From there The Nightingale tightens as Clare follows the company across the Australian bush to seek her revenge.
It must be said that The Nightingale is a very difficult film to watch. Within the first twenty minutes, there is a particularly harrowing scene that has proven too much for some who watched the film. It crosses a line, setting the tone for the rest of the narrative and shaping the brutality of the world we are witnessing. The film is shot in 1.375 Academy ratio (à la A Ghost Story, Cold War, First Reformed) and feels particularly tight and claustrophobic. It retains the focus on the characters in the foreground, rarely giving audience the relief of the majesty of the Australian environment. It adds to choice after choice made by
The film relies upon the acting prowess of its three leads and each give exceptional turns. Aisling Franciosi's performance as Clare really should be part of the awards conversation; a fascinating, prickly turn. Comparable to Sarah Bolger's turn in the equally-ignored A Good Woman is Hard to Find, Franciosi manages to capture a woman being torn apart by the rage, grief and guilt about her circumstances. Sam Claflin is an admirably monstrous presence: a pathetic, intensely dislikeable figure.
The Nightingale is a remarkable follow-up to a remarkable film. The Babadook is a brilliant work, one of the finest horror films ever made, a powerful exploration of grief and parental fear, coupled with one of the very best monsters in cinematic history. The Nightingale shares fragments of this but is far less interested in the supernatural. The real horror of our shared past is explored here and while I won't necessarily return to this film (as it offers little in the way of comfort) it is still one of the most admirable works produced in recent years.