Having carved out a career as an actress down under, Jennifer Kent has decided to make the move to behind the camera. She made her directorial debut with the curiously titled horror The Babadook in 2014.
For her follow-up she explores a dark period in Australia’s history, focusing as she does on a tale within it that's just as dark.
Tasmania, 1825, and the British are well and truly getting their feet under the table. The army are oppressing the indigenous population, as well as taking advantage of the convicts they brought with them.
One of them, Irish woman Clare (Aisling Franciosi), has done all that has been ordered of her, and still seems nowhere near being released, as so often promised.
Tragedy strikes when her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) confronts the officer in charge of her, Hawkins (Sam Claflin), and comes off second best because of it.
Hawkins then finds he has to head north to Launceston as quick as humanly possible, if he has any chance of getting the promotion he so desperately wants.
When Clare learns of his plans, she vows to follow him and seek out justice. When her friends see how incensed she is, they decide not to get in her way, but insist that she takes local guide Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to navigate through hostile territory.
With both equally as weary of each other, the pair set off on a perilous journey with neither fully convinced of the agenda of their travelling companion.
With its dusty trails and its struggles of indigenous people against a violent white race, Kent’s second feature, which she also wrote, has an old school western feel about it. Although it may lack the sheer scope of a John Ford flick, it perfectly highlights how a nation can quickly be dominated by a weaponised bully.
Within it is another story, a battle of the sexes, although again, it’s not much of a battle when the male side behaves so brutally. This leads to some difficult scenes to watch, that could leave some feeling they go too far. Although they may be difficult to watch, it’s probably an all too real depiction of events that took place at the time.
Without question, Kent produced a film that is overly long. With a running time of two and a quarter hours, the director unnecessarily stretches out the narrative to uncomfortable proportions. The film could easily be trimmed by forty-five minutes, and would be far more palatable for it. The story wouldn’t suffer in the slightest either.
The one thing that may well hold your attention throughout however, are the performances. The relationship between Clare and Billy are the very heart of the film, and Franciosi and Ganambarr are compelling throughout; Ganambarr is particularly exceptional considering he makes his acting debut here.
Kent’s second feature is both intense and absorbing, only to be let down by a bloated runtime that really doesn’t do it any favours. The Nightingale is the perfect example of less would have been so much more, and with a shorter flight time, its sombre song would have been far sweeter.