This film, The Nightingale by Jennifer Kent, is a punishing watch. The violence of the opening scene might be hard to sit through for a mainstream audience, but it is essential viewing because of what the film has already shown during its festival run.

Set in 1820s Tasmania, the film follows Clare (Aisling Franciosi) an Irish ex-convict who has finished serving her sentence for a petty crime. She has now settled in with a husband that treats her and their young child well.

However, they are trapped under the narcissistic reign of British Army officer Hawkins (Sam Claflin) who has no intention of ever letting her go and, in one of his fits, rapes her and kills her husband and child.

Awoken from this horror a hollowed shell, she finds her soul has been replaced with a hunger for retribution and she sets off on a chase through the Australian Bush to take revenge on Hawkins, who is long gone having left to chase a promotion his incompetence will ensure he never gets.

Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale
Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale C: IFC

On her way, she enlists the service of aboriginal tracker Billy (first-time actor Baykali Ganambarr) and while at first Clare acts as an oppressor to Billy, the same way she was treated, they soon realise they are both victims of the same conqueror.

The two gradually form an unspoken bond of trust, with the warm and loving nightingale and the savvy blackbird having both broken free of their cages.

Kent’s storytelling is as unforgiving as the world it is set in. It avoids any form of visual exploitation and shows the truth of rape and PTSD in its most brutal form.

Extensive research into rape-revenge films and her efforts to put an end to them and make things right in her depiction of sexual and racial violence shows the care with which all her characters are treated.

Franciosi’s and Ganambarr’s performances give the story, and the message of the film, the impact it deserves.

While The Nightingale was the first feature film for the former and the first acting experience for the latter, their dominance over their roles, the story and the subject matter is flawless.

Sam Claflin in The Nightingale
Sam Claflin in The Nightingale C: IFC

Yet the film hasn’t had the easiest run so far. Only now has it been released in the UK, while The Nightingale first premiered at Venice Film Festival in 2018.

It was the only film in the competition directed by a woman, amongst twenty other competitors. During its first press screening, sexist slurs granted a critic a life ban from the festival.

The critic called Kent, director of the acclaimed The Babadook, a “prostitute” and “whore,” in addition to shouting “shame on you” at her, according to Deadline and critics in attendance.

The movie itself, however, is an uncomfortable film to sit through, but so is the reality of rape. The fact that it took over a year for this film to get a commercial release shows how necessary it is for these difficult stories to be told.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Read Miro’s interview with The Nightingale star Aisling Franciosi here.