The Nightingale

An imprisoned Irish woman teams up with an Indigenous tracker in 19th-century Tasmania to exact revenge on a sadistic British lieutenant and his troops.

Year: 2018
Certificate: 18
Runtime: 2hr 16m
Jennifer Kent
Starring: Aisling FranciosiSam ClaflinBaykali GanambarrDamon HerrimanHarry GreenwoodEwen LeslieCharlie ShotwellMichael SheasbyCharlie Jampijinpa BrownMagnolia Maymuru

Information Page:

When “The Nightingale” was added to Netflix UK recently there were a number of followers on social media that recommended it but it’s not a film I had heard of before. You guys are usually right with your recommendations so I decided to give this a watch – and also while keeping in mind that a few of you had said there were some difficult scenes to watch. Trigger warning: this film contains scenes of rape.

The film is set in Tasmania in 1825 and opens with British army soldiers drinking in a bar when a young woman is sent out to sing for them. The soldiers are boisterous and clearly drunk and excited to be in the presence of a young woman. After the performance the young woman serves some drinks before being taken back to the back room by her master – lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin). Here we learn that the young woman is Clare (Aisling Franciosi) and that she was a convict being held captive by Hawkins long after her sentence had ended. She asks her captor, again, to sign her papers so she can leave with her husband – he refuses and proceeds to rape her.

Later, Clare’s husband Aidan decides to approach lieutenant Hawkins to ask him again to sign his wife’s papers so they can be free to live their life together. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well and lieutenant Hawkins and his merry men decide to head north to Launceston to try become a captain in the army. Clare, wanting to seek revenge against Hawkins, hires an Indigenous tracker called Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to help hunt him down. As you can probably imagine, there is some animosity between Billy and Clare due to the colonialism going on at the time. However, it turns out that Clare is Irish and hates the English as much as the indigenous tribes do – thus some kind of weak bond is formed and the pair leave to hunt down Hawkins.

The film is quite dark throughout – both in tone and in a literal sense. Due to the period it is set in there are no electric lights so any lighted scenes are via candlelight or moonlight and even the daytime scenes are fairly dark due to being set primarily in the Tasmanian bush / forests. The film is also shot in the, nowadays fairly obscure, Academy (4:3) format so on a widescreen TV you have black borders at the side of the screen. It bugged me a bit to begin with but I was able to ignore it and i didn’t detract from the film. The tone of the film is equally dark and does make for a few scenes that are difficult to watch. There are rapes, murders and violence – most of which are fairly graphic (although no sexual details of the rapes are shown, it is clear what is happening); the language is very strong and also includes a lot of racism. “The Nightingale” is rated 18 in the UK for a reason (see BBFC’s Ratings Info for more details).

As the story goes on we see more of Hawkins’ actions as he travels north through the bush and learn just how despicable he and his fellow soldiers really are. The acting is very good – you hate the characters you’re meant to hate, you have sympathy for the ones who are showing some signs of humanity and you are constantly rooting for Clare to be able to exact her revenge on her captor. We also see the strange bond that forms between Clare and Billy – although there is always a great deal of underlying animosity. It makes the story feel more realistic – while it is fictional, it is the sort of thing that happened in the British Colonies and it is very easy to see how difficult it would be for them to be able to work together successfully. Both Clare and Billy have their own problems but they are a world apart from each other. Eventually both parties meet in Launceston but exacting revenge isn’t as easy as you would think…

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, “The Nightingale” is a difficult watch at times. But if you can stomach the graphic violence and the sexual assault and threat then you will enjoy the gripping and thrilling drama. It tells a great story and it tells it very well. The cast do a fantastic job and I honestly can’t find any fault with the film. Even the 2hr 16min runtime didn’t seem to drag. “The Nightingale” comes highly recommended – but it is certainly one for the adults.

Have you seen this film? Let us know your opinions in the comments below and of course if there are any films on Netflix UK you want us to review let us know!

About MaFt

Film and TV fan, creator of New On Netflix (UK, USA, Australia and Canada), dad of two amazing children, code geek and passionate about autism.

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