A devastating Australian tale of colonial barbarity in Tasmania.
Director Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is a two hour and twenty minute film exploring moral depravity. It takes place in Tasmania in 1820. You watch a young Irish female convict be brutalized by English solders and her seeking vengeance as her only source of healing.
Given that the film focuses on the brutal killings of Irish men and children while the women were viciously raped at every turn, this film is an easy movie to miss for most of you. However, it shines a light on the brutal history of early Australia, which includes a candid look at how the English attempted to exterminate much the Aboriginal population.
While this subject was touched upon in earlier films entitled Rabbit Proof Fence and The Sapphires, neither exposed the violence suffered by a woman when she is raped. In this case, Aisling Franciosi plays Clare, the Irish convict who has finally been released from prison so that she can live with her husband and young child. After being raped by the despicable British Lieutenant known as Hawkins (Sam Claflin), she and her husband try to get permission to leave the territory only to have Hawkins and two soldiers under his command kill her husband and child. Clare is again brutally raped.
Thinking that she was dead, Hawkins leaves her only to have her regain her health and seek revenge. Given that Hawkins has embarked on a trek through the wilderness to reach another military location so he can receive a promotion, Clare enlists the support of an Aboriginal nomad named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), a tracker that she needs despite hating the color of his skin.
What follows is a horrific series of events where Hawkins and his lads kill and rape nearly everyone they meet on their journey. In the process, despite the fact that Clare and Billy initially disliked each other, a friendship forms as they struggle to survive so that Clare can have a moment of justice.
Ironically, the film’s essential focus is on the individuals referred to above. Ms. Franciosi gives a telling performance as a woman frequently covered in blood as she seeks to find the way to eliminate nightmares that cause her to occasionally see her loving husband and child. Mr. Gianambarr will hold your attention at all times as Billy, a man whose own family has been eliminated by the British as they seek to take the Aboriginal land so that they can farm and raise sheep.
It is also necessary to point out the roll of Jam Pijinpa Brown as Uncle Charlie, a relative of Billy who has been forced by Hawkins to lead his group of vicious cohorts through the wilderness. Yet you will never forget the performance of Sam Claflin as Hawkins, one of the most condemnable human beings to ever have appeared on the big screen. He is so ungodly awful that you almost hate both the actor and his character while forgetting his splendid rolls in Their Finest (2016), the incredible Me Before You (2016) and in his rolls in both Pirate of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) and the Hunger Games Trilogy.
Despite its wretched focus on violence, this is a film that shines a light on a country’s history that most citizens want to forget. You can’t be proud of being an Australian without embracing the fact that many of its initial inhabitants were Irish convicts brought to work as slaves for the British as well as their horrific attempt to eliminate the Aboriginals.
In many ways, Australia’s history is not much different from our own given the fact that we used millions of slaves for centuries to make a fortune in the cotton industry for wealthy white Americans, both north and south. Like it or not, racial hatred became a symbol of our country and it continues to exist to this every day. The Nightingale is a reminder for all Australians and U.S. citizens that our history is filled with shame and dishonor.