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Nightingale, The


Stars: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood

Director: Jennifer Kent

Here's the Australian equivalent of an American western. And it's a film I wanted to like more than I did. It's directed by the woman who made The Babadook, one of my favourite horrors, and it grieves me to say it Jennifer, but your latest film is much too long - half an hour at least.

It's (presumably) the early 1800s and, in a small outpost in the middle of Australian nowhere, woman-hungry British grenadiers are encamped with pretty Clare Carroll (Franciosi), an enslaved Irishwoman, and virtually the only girl to ogle at. Unfortunately, Clare is married to handsomely bearded Aidan (Michael Sheasby) and has a new-born babe to care for.

None of this bothers sadistic Lt Hawkins (a change of pace for Claflin), who did get Clare released from prison-for-thieving and gave her a horse, but now considers her his property, to do with as he likes.

Calling her to his quarters after a drunken evening, he viciously rapes her. Later, in her own rooms, he taunts Aidan, who has been denied freedom papers several times, and, after the Irishman attacks him, rapes Clare again and encourages his thoroughly unpleasant sergeant (Herriman) to do the same.

In the ensuing fracas, Aidan is killed, and the baby thumped to death by a green ensign (Greenwood) to stop it crying.

Comes the dawn and Clare finds the miscreants gone, headed north with an Aboriginal tracker, to where Hawkins hopes to claim the captaincy denied him by a disapproving commanding officer.

Clare hires her own Aborigine (Ganambarr) and follows on horseback, clutching a rifle.

Though intending to make us recoil at the bestialities of it all, the film just has too much violent and over-dramatic villainy: here are stupid men bringing retribution on their own heads,

What with hallucinations and too many forest scenes where nothing much happens, the film's momentum swiftly drains away. The acting is good, especially Ganambarr, and the cinematography densely atmospheric. But the ending, when it does come, doesn't quite hit the mark in cinematic terms. Terrific idea, then, not quite given justice here.

David Quinlan

Australia 2018. UK Distributor: Vertigo. Colour (unspecified).
136 minutes. Not widescreen (4 x 3). UK certificate: 18.

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

Review date: 25 Nov 2019