The Nightingale: The harrowing, sometimes brutal, compelling horror hits Neon

The Nightingale (18, 136mins) Directed by Jennifer Kent
Australian film-maker Jennifer Kent delivered perhaps the most impressive debut feature film of the past decade.

2014's The Babadook was a masterclass in creating tension and unnerving all those who dared to watch it. It proved Essie Davis was more than just TV's Miss Fisher and created a bogeyman for a whole new generation of moviegoers.

Five years on, Kent returned with a very different, but equally challenging, compelling and consequential horror.

Aisling Franciosi is quite brilliant as young Irishwoman Clare Carroll in The Nightingale.

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Rather than contemporary Adelaide, The Nightingale is set in rural Van Diemen's Land circa 1825.

Sent there as a convict, young Irishwoman Clare Carroll (Aisling Franciosi) now works for a British army unit. As well as carrying out domestic duties, she's also regularly called upon for her sharapg prowess, with many of the troops calling her "their nightingale". Clare hopes to one day be able to live as a free woman with her Irish husband and baby, but she's been waiting for months for Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) to sign her letter of recommendation.

Feeling that she still owes him for "rescuing her from prison", Hawkins considers Clare his property. "I decide when you leave and when you stay," he spits, before forcing himself upon her. It's a decision that seemingly destroys Hawkins' chances of promotion, especially when a visiting commanding officer gets wind of it.

Outraged at this perceived injustice, Hawkins decides to take a small band of men on the five-day walk to Launceston to apply for the position of Captain in person, but not before also exacting some "revenge" on Clare and her family for their part in his "misfortune".

Sam Claflin plays a much darker character than his usual heartthrobs in The Nightingale.

A harrowing, sometimes brutal, but compelling watch, Kent's unsettling, unflinching and unstinting tale is a truly disturbing nightmarish meditation on the evil that men do. Yes, it contains some unpalatable moments (including a horrific central scene), but you'll find yourself so absorbed and invested in the story that you cannot look away. The Nightingale is also a movie that you cannot not feel an emotion while watching. Kent draws you in with skilfully crafted characters and a provocative set up and you find yourself accompanying Clare on her traumatic journey through all its twists and turns.

Of course, it helps to have some stunning performance in the key roles. Claflin (Me Before You, Adrift, Their Finest) shreds his reputation as a swoonworthy heartthrob, while Aussie newcomer Baykali Ganambarr impresses greatly as Clare's "tracker" Billy. However, the film belongs to Irish-Italian actress Franciosi (The Fall, Game of Thrones' Lyanna Stark). She delivers a powerful and poignant turn as a woman whose finds her quest for justice isn't as bloodthirstily straightforward as she thinks it might be.

It's impossible not to feel emotions while watching The Nightingale.

This is the movie Kiwi-shot period dramas River Queen and The Stolen aspired to be, it's also likely one of the most visceral and memorable dramas you'll see all year.

The Nightingale is now available to stream on Neon. A version of this article first appeared in September 2019.


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