Ignored during an awards season or not, The Nightingale
is one of the best movies of the year and the listings below prove it.
IndieWire – The 19 Best Movies of 2019
13. The Nightingale
“The Nightingale” takes unseemly material and turns it into a liberating tale of historic reckoning. Unlike the eerie hauntings of director Jennifer Kent’s debut, “The Babadook,” this masterful Australian period piece unfolds in colonial Australia circa 1825, as Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi), sentenced to indentured servitude, survives a harrowing rape and embarks on a dizzying quest for revenge. After her husband and newborn child are murdered by her assaultive master, a British officer (Sam Claflin), Clare joins forces with a reticent aboriginal guide (Baykali Ganambarr) on a perilous trip across dense forestry to track down the man who ruined her life.
The movie blends the grand tapestry of a period epic with the intimate travails of its victim as she comes to grips with her situation; the visuals oscillate from sweeping landscapes to gothic nightmares as Clare comes closer to confronting her target. Far more than a rape-revenge story, “The Nightingale” allows the filmmaker to expand on motifs of violence and psychological turmoil without repeating herself. Kent’s drama wrestles with victimhood on multiple fronts, not only contending with Clare’s experiences but the persecution of the Aboriginal people as well, juggling repressed dimensions of the Australian psyche with a sophisticated eye. It doesn’t skimp on the violence, but it manages to interrogate it at the same time, exploring the desire for retribution and what it actually means for the victims in question. A brilliant provocation loaded with feeling, and worth the investment for even the queasiest of viewers.
The Irish Times – The best 50 films of 2019
43. The Nightingale
Aisling Franciosi is stunning in a drama concerning an Irish emigrant seeking justice after being raped in 19th century Tasmania. A hard watch, but worth the pain.
The Guardian – The 50 best films of 2019 in the UK
48. The Nightingale
Jennifer Kent follows up The Babadook with some real-life monsters: the men who ran Tasmania’s penal colonies in the 1820s – one of whom gets some grisly, if just, comeuppance in this gothic thriller.
Collider – Tom Reimann’s Top 10 Movies of 2019
4. The Nightingale
Ok, let’s get something out of the way right up front – The Nightingale is easily the darkest film I saw this year, and might be one of the darkest I’ve ever seen. Director Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to the cult hit The Babadook is a grim period revenge drama set in 19th century Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land), which was a British-occupied penal colony at the time. It stars Aisling Franciosi as Clare Carroll, an Irish convict working as a servant for the violent Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin). After a series of brutal events, Hawkins and his men depart for another post. Carol enlists the aid of an Aboriginal guide named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to track them down and kill them.
Kent’s film is bleak but gorgeously photographed, with excellent performances and particularly strong chemistry between Franciosi and Ganambarr. The film’s themes of systematic oppression and dehumanization are present in virtually every scene, predominantly in the casual cruelty inflicted with a grotesque air of entitlement by the fiendishly odious Hawkins and his men. Claflin’s performance would come across as almost cartoonishly evil if the horrors of colonialism weren’t so thoroughly documented. Kent rarely gives us a chance to breathe, but the few reprieves she does allow are profound moments of quiet dignity. It is not a film for everyone, but true to its title, The Nightingale is a beautiful song sung in the dark.
Parade – The 25 Best Movies of 2019
11. The Nightingale
Jennifer Kent‘s thunderous follow-up to The Babadook stars Aisling Franciosi as an imprisoned, abused Irish convict who sets out into the wilderness of 1825 Australia seeking vengeance. To be clear: The Nightingale is not a revenge fantasy; it’s a moral, humane exploration of themes that aren’t restricted to any particular time and place. It’s not easy viewing—it’s as much a series of events you experience as it is a movie you watch—but storytelling this clear-eyed and urgent doesn’t come around all that often, and demands to be seen. Kent does not make compromises in telling challenging, impactful stories. She’s one of the most exciting filmmaking talents around right now.
CBS News – The Best Movies of 2019
16. The Nightingale (Metascore: 77)
This drama, set in 1825, about a young convict (Clare Carroll) who seeks revenge, “isn’t an easy cinematic experience, but if you can handle it, it’s an unforgettable one,” says Entertainment Weekly.
Chicado Tribune – The best movies of 2019
18. The Nightingale
AP News – The Best Movies of 2019
10. The Nightingale
Jennifer Kent’s harrowing film about a young Irish woman on a quest for revenge in 1825 Tasmania contains one of the most shocking depictions of violence I’ve ever seen — so disturbing that I found myself looking for the door — and yet her film, which wants the viewer to be challenged by its violence, hate and ultimately empathy, is one that not only provokes, but sticks.
Los Angeles Times – Justin Chang’s best movies of 2019 – Honorable Mention
10. The Nightingale
Screenhub – Best Australian Films of 2019
Brutality also made The Nightingale notorious. But Jennifer Kent’s examination of colonial trauma has a literary and cinematic lineage – it’s part The Roving Party, part Van Diemen’s Land. And its tenderness is as striking: the way it infuses song with a longing for country that goes beyond language; or the way Billy (the wonderful Baykali Ganambarr) fetches a remedy for Clare’s (Aisling Franciosi) milk-swollen breasts.
Thrillist – The 50 Best Movies of 2019
13. The Nightingale
Release date: August 2
Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman
Director: Jennifer Kent (The Babadook)
Why it’s great: Revenge is a distressingly common theme in Hollywood movies, often used as a way to provide the threadbare motivation of a gunslinging protagonist on a path of violent destruction. On the surface, The Nightingale, director Jennifer Kent’s unceasingly brutal follow-up to her breakout horror hit The Babadook, is another familiar tale of vengeance and bloodshed. Claire, a 21-year-old Irish convict played by newcomer Aisling Franciosi, faces incredible hardships at the hands of cruel, merciless British officers in 1825 Tasmania. After being raped multiple times and seeing her family killed in front of her eyes, she’s left for dead. But she survives, tailing her attackers across the harsh Australian landscape with the help of Aboriginal tracker Billy (Ganambarr), who she initially treats with contempt and condescension. Shooting in a box-like aspect ratio, Kent zeroes in on the hypocrisies of colonialism with a startling sense of purpose. Her camera often locks in on the faces of the characters, refusing to look away and encouraging the viewer to confront truths that most films would prefer to keep hidden.
Where to watch: Stream on Hulu; rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer).
Junkee – The 20 Best Films Of 2019
14. The Nightingale
The Nightingale is absolutely brutal: as well-reported, its first fifteen minutes feature a sexual assault so horrific that hordes of people walked from its debut at Sydney Film Festival. But a film about colonial Tasmania needs to disturb, otherwise it’s not about colonial Tasmania, a site of Indigenous genocide.
Directed by The Babadook‘s Jennifer Kent, The Nightingale is also a film of internal trauma. When Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is attacked by a British officer and left with nothing, she vows revenge. Enlisting a local Indigenous tracker, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), Clare follows the officer through the Tasmanian bush.
Only brutality follows, as Billy and Clare head towards a revenge without any possibility for reparations; everything is already lost. The film finds similarities in their oppression, but Indigenous dispossession and mass-murder is never equated to convict treatment: the link is in their mutual enemy, though the power imbalance is always present. The Nightingale isn’t about overcoming racism or Clare losing her own prejudices — it is a cry of defiance from voices long silenced.
The Guardian – The Best Australian Films of the Year
2. The Nightingale
To express the power and impact of the writer-director Jennifer Kent’s second feature film (following the brilliant The Babadook) one naturally feels inclined to reach towards turns of phrase such as “gut-churning” or “soul-bruising” or “holy hell this film hurts”. Anything to make the point that this unforgettable revenge movie – set in 19th century Tasmania and following an Irish convict (Aisling Franciosi) as she tracks down a diabolical lieutenant (Sam Clafin) – packs one almighty punch.
In addition to its brutality, the film is utterly elegant in construction, Kent juggling many elements including the painterly boxed-in cinematography of Radek Ladczuk – presented in 4:3 aspect ratio – and a haunting score from Jed Kurzel.
The Film Stage – Where to Stream the Best Films of 2019
The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)
Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale features some of the most atrocious on-screen violence in recent memory. It is a cauldron of blood, murders, and rapes so unflinching in vividness and brutality as to make it impossible to go through its 136 minutes without ever turning away from the screen, let alone to come out of it untouched. But it is also, in a way that’s indissolubly bound to role that violence plays in Kent’s work, and to the depiction she offers of it, one of the most memorable works in its genre – a parable that never turns violence into a spectacle, but is resolutely committed to expose the poisonous double prism of racism and sexism it feeds upon.
Where to Stream: Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, Google
Austin Chronicle – Matthew Monagle’s Top 10 Films of 2019
5. The Nightingale
Arguably the year’s toughest watch (in a good way).
City Beat – Top 10 Films of 2019
10. The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)
With the twitchy shocks of The Babadook in mind, audiences were not ready for the latest release from Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent. Not exactly leaving behind the horror genre, The Nightingale sharpens the focus by thrilling us with a tale about an Irish convict (Aisling Franciosi) seeking revenge on the British officer (Sam Claflin) and his underlings who took all that was precious from her. The proceedings are what happen to a restless and vengeful spirit in the toll of such dogged pursuit.
Back in 2018, after The Nightingale first screened for media at the Venice Film Festival, it hit headlines. Barely a handful of people had seen it, but word of its tough nature spread quickly — as did news of vocal reactions and walkouts. Such reports would only continue as the film toured the festival circuit overseas and in Australia; however Jennifer Kent’s second feature after The Babadook wants to evoke that response. Tracking an Irish convict (Aisling Franciosi) on a quest for revenge against the British soldier (Sam Claflin) who brutally took away everything she loved, and following her trek through Van Diemen’s Land with an Indigenous guide (Baykali Ganambarr), this isn’t meant to be an easy watch. Clawing through the misogyny, racism and oppression baked into Australia’s history, and the violence with which it has been dispensed, should leave a visceral impact. Making a different kind of horror movie, Kent uses every tool at her disposal to put viewers in her protagonists’ shoes, including a boxed-in 4:3 aspect ratio that stares at assault, death and more front-on. The results don’t just leave an imprint — they leave a scar.
20. The Nightingale
What we said: “A director does not win feminist points by cancelling out a sexist element in their film with an engineered “clapback”. The Nightingale is a refreshing, necessary reminder that sexual violence isn’t just a trendy topic that exists solely in the abstract, but is primarily something experienced which cannot be reduced to a film trope or easily prevented in real life.”
91. The Nightingale
Critics Consensus: The Nightingale definitely isn’t for all tastes, but writer-director Jennifer Kent taps into a rich vein of palpable rage to tell a war story that leaves a bruising impact.
NME – The best films of 2019
19. The Nightingale
Director: Jennifer Kent
If you’re feeling at all fragile, do not watch this movie. Perhaps the worst hangover film you could possibly choose, The Nightingale revolves around the most shocking sequence you’ll see on screen this year. Without spoiling what happens too much, rape, murder and infanticide all feature. Later, the victim of these crimes, a young Irish convict woman called Clare (Aisling Franciosi), treks across the 19th Century Tasmanian wilderness in pursuit of her tormentor – a British Army officer (Sam Claflin) with the meanest of mean streaks. Definitely the most divisive film on this list, The Nightingale won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but stick with it and there’s a gripping historical revenge thriller to be discovered.
Best moment: The scene where Hawkins (Claflin) takes his anger out on Clare isn’t enjoyable, but it’s certainly memorable. Some won’t be able to watch, but if you do, the images will be seared onto your brain for days afterwards. AF
Like this, try this: The Babadook, Revenge
The Sydney Morning Herald – The top 10 movies of 2019
03. The Nightingale
It’s little wonder people stormed out of The Nightingale: the first 20 minutes of Jennifer Kent’s colonial-era revenge tale are among the most harrowing you will ever see on screen, featuring degradation, rape and murder. Not that it’s exactly sunny after that, with Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi) setting out to track the perpetrators of this violence with the aid of a reluctant Aboriginal tracker (Baykali Ganambarr). Set in 1825 Tasmania, this is an utterly unflinching look at white Australia’s origin story, in which dispossession, violence and class provide the parchment on which the myth of the lucky country is writ. Yes it’s hard to watch, but it’s the most honest and important Australian film in years – and a cracking thriller to boot. KQ
Houston Chronicle – The 13 Best Movies of 2019
13. The Nightingale
Australian director Jennifer Kent’s brutal story of revenge set in a 19th-century Tasmanian penal colony — in which a female Irish indentured servant and an Aboriginal man track down her English “owner” who killed both her husband and child and raped her — is not an easy watch, especially in its first half-hour. But Kent’s mastery of cinematic craft and storytelling (which she had showed off previously with “The Babadook”) doesn’t allow her to just wallow in gore. It doesn’t end as well as it starts but it’s still a gut-punch.
Joblo – Best Movies of 2019
16. The Nightingale
Much like Eggers coming off THE WITCH and into THE LIGHTHOUSE, a lot of eyes were on Jennifer Kent for her post-BABADOOK feature, THE NIGHTENGALE. Tackling a horror of a very different sort, her new movie is set in 1825 and centers on a young woman, Clare, (Aisling Franciosi) who is sexually assaulted and made to watch her husband and baby killed. Soon after, she picks herself back up and heads onto the road to hunt down the men who took away everything from her (Sam Claflin, Damon Herriman). Showing and addressing rape in the way Kent does is no easy maneuver, but unlike exploitation movies of the past, she doesn’t revel in the horror, but uses it as a springboard to tell a story of revenge and discovering what kind of person you really are after a tragedy occurs. Laced in is an examination of social and racial issues prevalent in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) at the time, with an Aboriginal man named “Billy” (Baykali Ganambarr) helping her track them down. Long, dour, violent, difficult to watch but emotionally rewarding in the end, THE NIGHTENGALE finds Kent pushing herself through challenging material that will no doubt put many at an unease they may never get over, but she comes out the other end an even more mature director. Fransciosi should also be in awards talk for her role, giving a powerhouse performance that puts her through unbelievable ringers. Ganambarr, Claflin, and Herriman are also great in the movie, which no doubt thanks to the subject matter didn’t even make $1 million by the end of its limited theatrical run, despite positive buzz out of Sundance. It’s a rough movie, to be sure, but by the end, the sheer emotional power of it rises well above the harder material.
ComingSoon – Top 10 Films of 2019
06. The Nightingale
The Babadook’s Jennifer Kent showed her versatility outside the horror genre with this weighty, unwavering story of revenge for a truly heinous crime in 19th century Tasmania. Aisling Franciosi is riveting in the lead role and Sam Claflin dares to be truly repugnant, but it’s Baykali Ganambarr as Aboriginal tracker Billy who is the heart of the film.