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Judy & Punch


Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Lucy Velik, Benedict Hardie, Virginia Gay, Terry Norris, Brenda Palmer

Director: Mirrah Foulkes

Here's a highly original concept. The story of Punch and Judy as seen at the seaside is re-imagined as a violent live-action fantasy set 'near the Black Forest' - in some imaginary medieval 'mittel European' township, appropriately called Seaside.

Here we find the alcoholic Mr Punch (Herriman) and his long-suffering wife Judy (Wasikowska) performing a puppet show chiefly notable for Mr Punch's puppet bashing the others around. In a basket in the wings, their baby is looked after by their faithful old servant.

Mr Punch considers himself the world's greatest puppeteer and lives for the day when the 'scribes' (agents) arrive, appreciating his talent so much that they take him to 'the big smoke' to perform.

In between shows, the locals amuse themselves by stoning women accused, often on the flimsiest pretext, of being witches.

Mr Punch's propensity for alcohol, however, increasingly fractures his relationship with Judy, but goes beyond the pale when, chasing the ruffed dog Toby. who has stolen his daily diet of sausages, he trips, catapulting the baby he was carrying through a first-storey window to its death.

Learning of the catastrophe, Judy flings herself at Punch, flailing hands at him. His response, as in the pier story, is to grab a stick and beat her to death. Ah, but there's a twist to the tale in this version, together with the priceless theft of a line from Gladiator towards the end.

That's not the only anachronism in a story that just about gets away with its mix of mayhem and merriment: what one character is doing with a yet-to-be discovered cigarette I can't imagine; but perhaps it was a roll-up of woodland herbs.

Wasikowska is first rate as always, as is Herriman, although, with cropped hair and frizzy stubble and moustache, he looks so like Richard Harris, one expects him to burst into a chorus of Camelot at any moment.

The film doesn't quite sustain its clever, if more than somewhat batty premise all the way through, but it does have a killer (double) ending.

David Quinlan

Australia 2018. UK Distributor: Picturehouse. Colour by Atlab.
106 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 19 Nov 2019