Set in 1825, Clare, a young Irish convict woman, chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.
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THE NIGHTINGALE is a meditation on the horrors of Australian colonization, set at the turn of the 19th century. The film follows Clare, a 21-year-old native Irish wife and mother held captive beyond her 7-year sentence, desperate to be free of her obsessed master, British lieutenant Hawkins. Clare's husband Aidan intervenes with devastating consequences for all. When British authorities fail to deliver justice, Clare pursues Hawkins, who leaves his post suddenly to secure a captaincy up north. Unfamiliar with the Tasmanian wilderness she enlists the help of an orphaned Aboriginal tracker Billy. Marked by their traumas, the two fight to overcome their distrust and prejudices against the backdrop of Australia's infamous 'Black War'.Written by
At the end of 2017, with the script in a good place and casting underway, producer Kristina Ceyton and writer-director Jennifer Kent approached highly-regarded Australian born producer Bruna Papandrea and her producing partner at Made Up Stories, Steve Hutensky, to join them as producers on the film. See more »
That's just the way isn't it? You don't want trouble but sometimes trouble wants you.
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Shocking violence. Heartbreaking aftermath. Beautiful love story. Powerful history lesson. All in one. Worth every tear.
I want to start by saying that I did not find The Nightingale excessively violent. And believe me, I hate movie violence. But I feel like I've seen trailers for action flicks that had more. Plenty of TV shows do as well. Maybe not rape, but still. Perhaps the reason it didn't feel excessive was because the movie doesn't dwell on it. It avoids gore, except in a few places where it really was necessary. Not only is there absolutely nothing gratuitous, each of those scenes has in it so much more than just "oh, look, they kill", "oh, look, they rape." For example, both women who are raped are mothers. Both are torn away from their very young children in the process. So, not only are they brutally violated, I was horrified thinking what must have been going through their minds knowing that the children are out there, helpless, crying, and they can't protect them.
At the center of the story is an Irish convict named Clare (Aisling Franciosi) and an aboriginal man named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) whom she convinces to guide her through the wilderness to the men lead by Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) who "took something from her". But it is nowhere near a simple revenge story.
The film offers a history lesson that might be more affecting than anything with names and dates. It's a sharp and clear look at what violence does to people, not just the victims, but the perpetrators too. It's easy to see what happened there earlier. White people take the land, the aboriginals fight them, soldiers brought in to fight them, the aboriginals fight back, and it spiraled on and on turning the whole place into the land of "bad spirits" that we find in the film. We see people that are dead, even if their bodies are still alive. The white woman holding a baby while looking at her burning house. An older aboriginal tracker forced to witness horrific violence against one of his own and then keep guiding the very perpetrators. A convict who saw two others killed right in front of him - tellingly one by an aboriginal and another by an officer.
The soldiers, who are there not exactly on their own free will, are taught to dehumanize the locals as well as the convicts they are guarding. We can see the beginnings of the process in the young officer and in the convict boy Hawkins takes a brief interest in. We can see how it's kill or be killed, quite possibly by one of your own. But by dehumanizing the others they are dehumanizing themselves eventually becoming like Hawkins and his hapless sidekick Ruse (Damon Herriman). The film doesn't let anyone off the hook. There's a heartbreaking scene that reminds us that even settlers who are nice and kind and, what we would now call, woke are still living on the stolen land.
Clare is an orphan who found herself having to steal to survive which landed her in that hell hole of a place as a young girl. Now 21 she finally has things starting to look up for her. A husband, a little hut, a beautiful baby girl. Life. Hope. But her long earned freedom is in the hands of Hawkins who is mildly infatuated with her and wants to keep her for himself. When her husband's ill conceived attempt to break her free brings on a horrible tragedy, she too is pulled into the vortex of violence. And Billy, who is trying to keep his head down and avoid trouble in spite of having suffered enormously from the colonizers, is pulled in along with her. But it is their relationship that holds them and the film together. Watching it move slowly from an understandable distrust to a deep bond melts your heart. To me it's really a love story.
I found the film pulling me in like few have ever done. It was as if I was there, feeling what the characters were feeling as much as it can be possible sitting in my comfortable 21st century chair. I wasn't just grieving for them, I was grieving with them, a few times finding myself breaking down literally seconds before one of them did. This has never happened to me before. I think it's because everything flows so organically. Every mood change, every action, dream, nightmare is right in its place and palpably real. No small feat for something that is also rich with allegory. And the acting is fantastic across the board. Franciosi's performance is raw and alive, like a pulsating vein as she goes through a myriad of subtle changes of emotions. Layers of emotions. Clare never loses her vulnerability, no matter how much rage she is in or how much confidence she is trying to project. That's what makes her so compelling. Ganambarr is a revelation as Billy. He moves seamlessly, with barely a change of tone between being an occasional comic relief, talking about his culture with quiet, yet forceful passion, and revealing just how much he's been hurt, and he is perfect every step of the way. You can see the pain buried inside him slowly seeping out as the movie progresses. And Hawkins could have been a run of the mill villain, but Claflin fleshes him out as someone who commits violence not out of strength, but out of weakness. He is unable to control anything, from soldiers under his command to his own career. Impotent both figuratively and literally, he kills and rapes as a means of control. He doesn't enjoy sex or anything else for that matter. A miserable creature, even more disgusting than he is scary - perfectly befitting someone in the last stages of inner decay.
The film loses its momentum for a bit towards the end, but just barely. I found it a riveting, breathtaking, mesmerizing watch, well worth my every tear.
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