Home » The Nightingale review – A Revenge Tale Masterpiece of Grief and Anguish

The Nightingale review – A Revenge Tale Masterpiece of Grief and Anguish

by Ben Rolph

An unforgiving grief stricken revenge tale of mythic properties. Jennifer Kent’s second feature is a unforgettable triumph, confined to Academy ratio, we are launched into a world of staggering horror and atrocities of devilish qualities. A historic gothic that defines Kent as a director at the height of her masterful powers, an ongoing sense of control is ever-present in the jaw-droppingly beautiful cinematography.


‘The Babadook’ is one of horror’s finest films, a continuation of sorts from Kent’s ‘Monster’, a short horror film that also features a mother-son relationship facing their monsters. This idea is continued in The Nightingale, with the recurrent motif of animals and the symbol of what a monster truly is. The monsters in this film are far different, far more demonic and animalistic with qualities that remind of the devil. The question of who are the real devils remains prominent throughout. The film itself is set in Tasmania, a definite choice of period and subject relating to the now-native ‘Tasmanian Devils’, a carnivorous species that Kent parallels back to the British forces.

We follow Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a young Irish convict, who hunts a British officer (Sam Claflin) through the deep Tasmanian wilderness. Bent on brutal-revenge, she is haunted by the many traumatic experiences encountered whilst in company of the British. Horrific acts of violence are a norm, as the invasive British army slaughter the ‘blacks’ one by one. She enlists the guidance of Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.


There is little comparison to ‘The Babadook’, this is something completely different and staggeringly revelatory. There is poetic elegance to the film, through its imagery and enchanting setting, Kent crafts a masterpiece that depicts the finest shred of grief cinema has ever offered. Entirely unflinching and blunt, Kent terrorises the spectator in scenes of jaw-dropping brutality and senseful violence. The film vividly shines with its use of ‘show don’t tell’, showing images that remain unforgettable and haunting. You’ll never forget it. Adding to the darkly haunted feel is the recurrent motif of singing, sung live showcasing Aisling’s raw talent, it’s reminds of what was and now is with its cyclical role in the film.

Aisling Franciosi is fiercely incredible, with a fiery passion for brutal-revenge. She is Clare, nothing less. Sam Claflin is unrecognisable as the irredeemable white-devil-like officer, his performance is unfathomably intense and Claflin gets lost within. Baykali Ganambarr’s aboriginal character provides a much needed sense of comic relief at points, this jumps off of Kent’s meticulous script that denies nearly all feelings of catharsis. The bond between the two contrasting peoples is allowed to breathe, with a run time that never drags, but uses time to create an unquestionable connection between the two.


The cinematography of Radek Ladczuk (who also worked on ‘The Babadook’) has a quietly beautiful feel, as he characterises Tasmania to be almost a friend to Clare. The wide-angle cut-away shots are heart-stopping in their gothic beauty. The motif of trees and our inherent human fear of forests is used to unsettle, whilst also creating a strong sense of wonder and awe as all is calculatedly framed in a breathtaking way. Reminding of ‘The Witch’, the forest is foreboding as what lies within remains unknown – this relates back to Grimm’s fairy tales, in which our present connotations around forests and evil was formed. Additionally, the expressionistic dream sequences hark back to the scares of Kent’s previous film, conveying a feeling that unsettles to the core. The dancing between life and death, the line that is straddled and the shifts in Clare is seen through her darkly twisted nightmares.

The Nightingale is a gothic masterpiece of grief and revenge. It proves Jennifer Kent to be a masterful director at the height of her powers. Kent’s careful direction and use of Academy ratio reflects the confinement of Clare and Tasmania’s aboriginals.

5/5 Stars ★★★★★

Ben Rolph

THE NIGHTINGALE PREMIERED AT VENICE 2018 and is out in UK cinemas THIS week


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