The Nightingale is brutal and shocking and horrifying. It’s set in Tasmania in 1825. A young Irish mother and an Aboriginal man set out on a journey of revenge and enlightenment. There are spoilers about the beginning of the story ahead.
Aisling Franciosi plays Clare. She’s married to Aidan (Michael Sheasby). They have an infant daughter. Clare is at the mercy of Lt. Hawkins (Sam Claflin), who refuses to give her the paperwork to secure her freedom even though she’s served the time necessary to earn it.
Hawkins forces Clare to sing for his troops. He calls her his nightingale. He rapes her regularly. Trigger warnings are in order for rape scenes. There are several.
When Aidan makes the mistake of confronting Hawkins, troops come to their shack. They rape Clare again, kill Aidan, kill her daughter, and leave Clare for dead.
Hawkins heads north through the Tasmanian wilderness on a quest to achieve a Captaincy. Clare takes a musket and a burning hatred and goes after him. Friends convince her to use the skills of Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal tracker, to help her through the forest.
Clare and Billy exemplify the racial distrust, the class distinctions, and the horrors of colonization in their two characters. Both Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr are outstanding at representing a myriad of inequalities with their portrayals.
As they trekked through the forest, Clare and Billy learned they had more in common than they did with any of the army officers they pursued. They learned to trust each other, and to help each other. It didn’t make things easy or any less brutal, but it did lead to a kind of redemption.
This is an Australian story, about a time called the Black War, when Aboriginal people were killed almost to extinction. But it could be a story about any country colonized by Europeans, America included. Otherizing the native people, brutally eliminating them and their means of survival, and taking everything from them was standard practice for colonists everywhere they went. Likewise, women were treated as objects, whores, and whipping posts.
The Nightingale was written and directed by Jennifer Kent, who directed The Babadook. Hard as the film was to watch and contemplate, it was a masterful work. It was full of power and terrifying beauty.
Take a look at the trailer. The film is available on Prime Video, YouTube and other streamers.