Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Nightingale’ Carefully Treads Through a Maze of Trauma

Editor’s note: this piece contains references to racial violence and sexual assault

Tasmania in 1825 was a British penal colony. England shipped its prisoners to its wilderness, a wilderness that they stole from Tasmania’s native population. England abused prisoners and Aboriginals alike, treating them like livestock. In Jennifer Kent’s second feature film, The Nightingale, she navigates the colonial atrocities performed by the British and creates a film that wishes to directly address the cruelty of past while also encouraging empathy for the victims of such violence.

Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish woman who has been on the island for seven years. She was first sent to prison, then purchased by Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin). Hawkins has taken a special liking to Clare, routinely assaulting her after he’s had something to drink. Despite her requests for freedom after her marriage and the birth of her daughter, Hawkins clings to her like a starved leech, sucking out whatever life Clare has left. This culminates in a horrific act of violence that leaves Clare alone and full of rage. She hires Aboriginal tracker, Billy (newcomer Baykali Ganambarr), to guide her through the wilderness to catch up the soldiers and enact her revenge. 

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