The Nightingale (2018 film)

The Nightingale is a 2018 Australian period drama film written, directed, and co-produced by Jennifer Kent. Set in 1825 in the British penal colony of Van Diemen's Land (now the Australian state of Tasmania), the film follows a young woman convict seeking revenge for a terrible act of violence committed against her family. It stars Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Charlie Shotwell, and Damon Herriman, and is mostly in English, with some Irish and Palawa kani.

The Nightingale
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJennifer Kent
Produced by
Screenplay byJennifer Kent
Music byJed Kurzel
CinematographyRadek Ladczuk
Edited bySimon Njoo
Distributed by
Release date
  • 6 September 2018 (2018-09-06) (Venice)
  • 2 August 2019 (2019-08-02) (United States)
  • 29 August 2019 (2019-08-29) (Australia)
Running time
136 minutes[3]
  • English
  • Irish Gaelic
  • Palawa kani
Box office$661,809[4][5]

The film was released on August 2, 2019, by IFC Films in the United States, and on August 29, by Transmission Films in Australia.


During the Van Diemen's Land Black War, Irish convict Clare Carroll works as a servant for a British Army unit commanded by Lieutenant Hawkins, with Sergeant Ruse. The unit is being visited by an inspecting officer to see if Hawkins is fit for promotion to captain. After a night of work, Clare asks Hawkins about the overdue letter of recommendation that would allow her family—husband Aidan and their infant daughter—freedom. Hawkins takes this as an act of insolence and proceeds to assault and rape her. Later that night, Aidan suspects that Clare has been hurt but promises to remain calm when he confronts Hawkins the following morning about the letter; however, he fails to sway him.

That night, a drunken Aidan engages in a brawl with Hawkins, Ruse and wide-eyed Private Jago. The visiting officer witnesses the entire incident and determines that this, along with other acts of poor conduct displayed by Hawkins and his soldiers, make him unfit for promotion. Incensed, Hawkins commands Ruse and Jago to gather supplies for an impromptu journey through treacherous bush to the town of Launceston in hopes of securing his promotion. Before departing, the soldiers intercept the Carroll family, who are attempting to flee. Hawkins taunts Aidan about the “numerous” times he's had sex with Clare. Then he and Ruse gangrape Clare, Hawkins kills Aidan, and Jago kills their baby and knocks Clare unconscious.

After Clare reports the incident to a dubious RMP official the following morning, she decides to seek revenge herself, with the help of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy. Clare presents the mission to Billy as her desire to rendezvous with her soldier husband on his journey. At first, Clare is domineering toward Billy, but their mutual hostility dissipates and they gradually bond as they learn about each other’s tragic upbringings and their shared hatred of the British. Billy tells Clare that his actual name is Mangana, Palawa kani for “blackbird”, and that he wishes to go up north to reunite with the still-living female members of his people. Meanwhile, the officers recruit three convicts and Aboriginal Charlie for their journey. Hawkins takes a liking to one of the convicts, a child named Eddie, and Ruse kidnaps a woman named Lowanna to be used as a sex slave. Aboriginal men kill one of the convicts and injure Jago in an unsuccessful rescue mission. Hawkins kills Lowanna in the scuffle, and he, Ruse, and the convicts leave Jago behind. Later, when Clare and Billy stumble upon Jago, whom Billy assumes is her husband, Clare corners Jago and repeatedly stabs and beats him to death. Billy considers abandoning a now-desperate Clare, but after he learns the true story behind her desire to get revenge on the soldiers, he decides to stay.

Charlie, as revenge for the soldiers' inhumanity, diverts the journey to a dead end on the summit of a mountain. Ruse kills him, but Hawkins chastises Ruse for the rash decision and forces him to be their guide on the way back down the mountain. After Clare and Billy find Charlie's body, Billy performs burial rites and informs Clare that now he, too, seeks vengeance. The two finally approach the group of four men, but Clare freezes when she sees Hawkins, allowing him to graze her with a musket shot, forcing Clare and Billy to split up. Billy is found and forced to be the new guide. He brings the soldiers back to the main path to Launceston, and Hawkins orders Eddie to kill Billy, but Eddie hesitates, allowing Billy to escape. Hawkins tries to abandon Eddie, but when Eddie begs for a second chance, Hawkins shoots and kills him. Clare also finds her way back onto the main path and reunites with Billy. While on their way, they encounter a chain gang of Aboriginals, one of whom informs Billy that he is now the last of his people. When the prisoner yells at his captors about their callousness, they shoot him and the others dead.

In Launceston, Clare valiantly confronts a newly promoted Hawkins about his war crimes in the presence of several British officers while Billy watches in hiding. The two then flee town for the night, but Billy dons war paint, enters the hostel where Hawkins and Ruse are lodged, and kills them both, but not before Ruse wounds Billy. Clare and Billy flee the commotion and arrive at a beach where Billy dances and declares himself a free man, while Clare sings a panegyric Gaelic folk song as the two watch the sun rise.



According to The Sydney Morning Herald, director Jennifer Kent was "deluged" with film scripts from the United States after the success of her debut film, The Babadook (2014), but decided to focus on writing and directing The Nightingale.[6] IndieWire reported that shooting for The Nightingale began on location in Tasmania in March 2017.[7]


The Nightingale was released in the United States on August 2, 2019 by IFC Films, and in Australia on August 29 by Transmission Films.[8][9] The film was selected to be screened in the main competition section of the 75th Venice International Film Festival,[10][11][12] and had its Australian premiere at the 2018 Adelaide Film Festival.[13] IFC Films announced on Twitter they bought the rights to distribute the film in the US and have set a release for Summer 2019, following its festival run.[2]

Critical response

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Nightingale holds an approval rating of 86%, based on 173 reviews, and an average rating of 7.51/10. Its consensus reads, "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."[14] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100, based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[15]


The Nightingale received heavy criticism following its initial screenings at the Sydney Film Festival, where approximately 30 film-goers walked out of the theater[16] in disgust due to its extreme depictions of rape and murder. One viewer was heard shouting "I'm not watching this, she's already been raped twice" as she exited the theater. Kent defended the decision to show such violence, saying that the film contains historically accurate depictions of the violence and racism that colonial power inflicted on the indigenous Australian people of that time.[16] The film was produced in collaboration with Tasmanian Aboriginal elders who asserted that this is an honest and necessary depiction of their history and a story that needs to be told. Kent said she understands the negative reactions, but stated that she remains enormously proud of the film and stressed to audiences that this film is about a need for love, compassion and kindness in dark times.[17]


Award Category Subject Result Ref
AACTA Awards
Best Film Kristina Ceyton Won [18]
Steve Hutensky Won
Bruna Papandrea Won
Jennifer Kent Won
Best Direction Won
Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted Won
Best Actor Baykali Ganambarr Nominated
Best Actress Aisling Franciosi Won
Best Supporting Actor Damon Herriman Nominated
Michael Sheasby Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Magnolia Maymuru Won
Best Cinematography Radek Ladczuk Nominated
Best Editing Simon Njoo Nominated
Best Sound Leah Katz Nominated
Robert Mackenzie Nominated
Dean Ryan Nominated
Pete Smith Nominated
Best Production Design Alex Holmes Nominated
Best Costume Design Margot Wilson Nominated
Best Hair and Makeup Nikki Gooley Nominated
Cassie O'Brien Nominated
Larry Van Duynhoven Nominated
Best Casting Nikki Barrett Won

See also


  1. McNary, Dave (14 March 2017). ""Sam Claflin Thriller 'The Nightingale' Backed by Bron Creative"". Variety. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  2. Collis, Clark (9 January 2019). "Babadook director Jennifer Kent's new film The Nightingale to be released this summer". Entertainment Weekly.
  3. "The Nightingale". Venice International Film Festival. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  4. "The Nightingale (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  5. "The Nightingale (2019)". The Numbers. IMDb. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  6. Maddox, Garry (22 March 2017). "Game of Thrones' Aisling Franciosi to star in Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale ", The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  7. Nordine, Michael (14 March 2017). "'The Nightingale': Jennifer Kent Begins Production on Her Follow-up to 'The Babadook'", IndieWire. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  8. Sprague, Mike (27 March 2019). "The Babadook Director Gets a Release Date for New Movie The Nightingale". MovieWeb. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  9. "Jennifer Kent's THE NIGHTINGALE Australian Release Date Revealed!". Cult of Monster. 8 May 2019. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  10. "Venice to Kick Off Awards Season With New Films From Coen Brothers, Luca Guadagnino and Alfonso Cuaron". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  11. "Venice Film Festival Lineup: Heavy on Award Hopefuls, Netflix and Star Power". Variety. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  12. Tartaglione, Nancy (4 September 2018). "'The Nightingale' Director Jennifer Kent On The Feminine Force & Retaining Humanity In Very Dark Times – Venice Q&A". Deadline Hollywood.
  13. "The Nightingale - Adelaide Film Festival".
  14. "The Nightingale (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  15. "The Nightingale (2019) Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  16. Thomas, Sarah (11 June 2019). "'I'm not watching this': Film's brutal account of Australia's colonial history sparks walkout". ABC News. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  17. "The Nightingale: Film director defends controversial rape scenes - BBC News". BBC Staff. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
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