Coming to theatres from writer/director Jennifer Kent and IFC Films comes a story that will have everyone talking about THE NIGHTINGALE.
It is 1825 Australia where Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a 21-year-old Irish woman who served a seven year prison sentence. Freed by Lt. Hawkins (Sam Claflin), she has basically exchanged one prison sentence for another. He is infatuated with Clare and although he allows her to marry Aidan (Michael Sheasby), Lt. Hawkins controls everything she does.
Lt. Hawkins himself is an unhappy man, unhappy with his post, life and that Clare continues to request that she be set free. Once again she is denied and Aidan doesn’t understand his hold. Deciding to speak with Lt. Hawkins himself, it becomes an evening of unspeakable horror.
The next morning Clare attempts to find justice for her family and discovers that Lt. Hawkins and his men have packed up and left for a post in the north. That is when she decides to go after them all to hold them accountable. Needing a guide she is directed toward Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) who really wants nothing to do with her.
Given no choice, Clare holds Billy at gunpoint as they see each other without much care. Clare sees a black man who should do as he is told and Billy sees a white woman who comes from a group of people who have killed his.
As they come closer to finding Lt. Hawkins and company, a bond begins to form as their lives are in danger. They both have stories of their lives and finally share with one another. In those stories they discover that pain knows no color or geography.
Finally coming face to face with Lt. Hawkins, both must make a decision on how to handle their pain.
Franciosi as Clare is stunning, emotional, frightening and absolutely stellar in her role. I have to be quite honest and say I’m not sure how any woman given that time period would have handled what this character went through. That being said, Franciosi portrayal of Clare is riveting and feels very honest. She had me tense and holding my breath every scene of the film. Brilliant!
Ganambarr as Billy plays his character straight forward as an aboriginal who has been denied his country, heritage, family and sense of self. He is angry and has every right to be but once he learns Clare’s story, there is a change that happens with an understanding that is clear and powerful. I was taken with Ganambarr’s performance and it is one I am not likely to ever forget.
Claflin as Lt. Hawkins is just plain evil from start to finish and that is so surprising for me. I am so use to Claflin playing roles like THE HUNGER GAMES, THE HUNTSMAN, ME BEFORE YOU and ADRIFT that this role out and out shocks me in its brutality. These all had to be a difficult role and Claflin as the heavy plays a character that knows his wrongs but continues to do them anyway.
Other cast include Damon Herriman as Ruse, Harry Greenwood as Jago, Ewen Leslie as Goodwin, Charlie Shotwell as Eddie, Matthew Sunderland as Davey, Magnolia Maymuru as Lowanna, Christopher Stollery as Major Bexley, Nathaniel Dean as Stoakes, Claire Jones as Harriet, Luke Carroll as Archie and Charlie Jampijinpa Brown as Uncle Charlie.
THE NIGHTINGALE has won at Venice for Special Jury Prize, Best New York Performer, winner at the Miami International Film Festival, Rene Rodriguez Critics Award as well as the Official Selection at the Sundance Film Festival – Spotlight Section and Official Selection at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
This film is brutal, even savage, in its telling and in the mix is colonialism, an attempt to extinguish a race, disgusting treatment of women and the insanity of it all on a person. I can’t recall the last time I had my hand over my mouth so many times during a film to keep in the yell that wanted to escape.
It is a story of Clare and Billy and the clear truth that they do not know their worth until their worth is made clear. Unfortunately the knowledge comes by way of pain and hardship. Franciosi and Ganambarr give their characters humanity in the midst of madness.
The writer/director Jennifer Kent has told a tale that wears down the viewer with a cast that brings everything to the screen. I am in awe of everyone who took part in this film. This won’t be an easy film for anyone to watch but that shouldn’t stop it from being seen and I believe that!
In the end – her song won’t be silenced!