Written and directed by Kent, it chronicles the story of Claire, a 21-year-old Irish former convict who finds herself trapped by a brutal master, Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) in 1825 Tasmania. Within the opening half hour of The Nightingale, Claire is forcibly restrained and raped by multiple people, with early reactions indicating that the camerawork “forces the viewer to watch the pain in her face – almost from the vantage point of her rapist.”
A number of people even walked out of Sunday night’s screening, deeming The Nightingale to be gratuitous in its depiction of sexual violence. One female attendee reportedly shouted: “She’s already been raped, we don’t need to see it again,” before getting up and storming out.
Be that as it may, Kent stands by her direction, as she wanted audiences to reckon with the pain and trauma of female convicts from colonial times.
I do not believe this would be happening if the film was at all gratuitous or exploitative. Whilst The Nightingale contains historically accurate depictions of colonial violence and racism towards our Indigenous people, the film is not ‘about’ violence … We’ve made this film in collaboration with Tasmanian Aboriginal elders, and they feel it’s an honest and necessary depiction of their history and a story that needs to be told. I remain enormously proud of the film.
When asked about those reactions, Jennifer Kent told members of the press that “if we showed what really happened in Tasmania in 1825, no audience could bear it.” So you can’t fault Kent for wanting to tell a historically accurate account of Tasmania and its bloody post.
The Nightingale is currently scheduled for release on August 2nd. It initially premiered at Venice Film Festival in 2018 and won a special jury prize, so there’s no question that this period piece has some serious pedigree behind it.