The Nightingale, by Cameron J. Czaja

Before I started writing for The Legionnaire, the last film that I saw in the movie theater was a small Australian film called The Nightingale. Even though I was invited to start writing for The Legionnaire a week before I saw this film, I chose to not review The Nightingale because I wanted my first review to be a major film (which at the time was It: Chapter 2) and also it’s is not an easy watch for a lot of people. I actually wasn’t sure if I was going to write a review for this but recently I finished playing a video game called The Last of Us Part II and felt inspired. Both The Nightingale and The Last of Us Part II share a similar premise, which is a woman seeking revenge after she suffers a tragedy. So, I ask, is this revenge flick worth a view? Let’s find out.

Set in 1825, The Nightingale follows Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish woman living in the British penal colony of Van Diemen’s land, which is known today as Tasmania. Clare is a former criminal but now works as a servant for the British Colonial Services detachment, which is commanded by Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin). One night, Clare tries to ask Hawkins for an overdue letter of recommendation that would allow freedom for herself, her husband Aiden (Michael Sheasby), and her infant daughter. Before answering her request, Hawkins tries to seduce her, which she refuses, and this then angers him and he proceeds to rape her. The following night Aiden finds out and confronts Hawkins, and the two men brawl at the local tavern where Clare serves. This fight is noticed by a visiting officer who determines that Lieutenant Hawkins isn’t ready for a promotion that he was been wanting for some time. Feeling aggravated, Hawkins commands two of his men to pack up and go on a journey through the bush to the town of Launceston to hopefully secure a promotion. Before Hawkins leaves, however, he visits Clare and Aiden again where she not only ends up being raped again but her husband and child are killed in the process. When Clare tries to go to the authorities about this, they turn her down for lack of evidence, so she tries to take matters into her own hands. She then decides to trek through the bush into Launceston with the help of an aboriginal guide named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) where she hopes to get her revenge.

As you can tell by that description, The Nightingale is was not an easy movie to watch. The themes and the content shown in the film were quite disturbing, though fortunately the most brutal scenes are found in the first act of the film. However, despite all this it was a film that I was actually glad I saw, mainly because of the technical aspect and the historical accuracy giving it a genuine feel. 

For those who consider themselves history buffs or people who love to learn something new about one’s culture, The Nightingale is a great film to watch. After I watched the film, I was driven to learn more about life in Tasmania during the 1800s and British involvement in that land. Even before looking up more information on this film I can tell that director Jennifer Kent crossed her T’s and dotted her I’s when it came to getting the historical facts right. The reason it seems like I’m giving this film way too much credit for its representation of history is because I was genuinely surprised of learning about a part of history that I wasn’t familiar with. It also helps that the film was very well shot by a confident director, despite this being her second film (the other being The Babadook). After watching The Nightingale I’m looking forward to see what the director’s next film will be. 

Now I do want to talk about the subject matter that’s the main theme in The Nightingale, which is revenge. Much like The LighthouseThe Nightingale is another cautionary tale about how certain actions could lead to sin, which in this case is revenge. Without spoiling anything, the film does take an interesting approach to the subject matter in a way that I didn’t expect. All I will say is that there are repercussions towards certain characters that felt justified, to some degree.

The Nightingale is definitely not something I recommend for everyone. The presence of rape and violence towards women in this film is disturbing and if you don’t want to watch a film with those elements in it then I wouldn’t blame you. I put this in the category of films that includes 12 Years a Slave and Schindler’s List: fantastic films that are well made but you only need to see once. If you do want to see this film for the production and/or how they portray history, then it’s currently on Hulu as of this review. Just be prepared for the content.

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