The Nightingale an Australian movie showing the horrific abuse one transported Irish woman and her family suffered is now available on Amazon in the US.

Many filmgoers at the Australian premiere of The Nightingale about a young Irish woman’s fate after being transported to Tasmania reportedly walked out after just 20 minutes, due to scenes of violence against women and children. Now Americans will be able to buy the movie on Amazon Prime.

Vanity Fair called it “one of the most disturbing sequences to hit movie screens in recent memory.”

However, director Jennifer Kent defended the film. Kent said the film had been commended by sexual assault survivors.

"Whilst The Nightingale contains historically accurate depictions of colonial violence and racism towards our Indigenous people, the film is not 'about' violence," she said.

"It's about the need for love, compassion, and kindness in dark times.

"Both [producer] Aisling Franciosi and myself have been personally contacted by more than a few victims of sexual violence after screenings who are grateful for the film's honesty and who have drawn comfort from its themes.

"I do not believe this would be happening if the film was at all gratuitous or exploitative.

The negative reaction is not surprising as there are four brutal rapes, numerous murders and the killing of a baby in the first hour or so. The scenes are graphic and not for the squeamish.

The Nightingale is set in 1825 Tasmania, featuring the quest for revenge by a young female Irish indentured servant on the British officer who performed vicious acts on her and who will not grant her a ticket of leave although she has served her time.

The young Irishwoman, Claire, is played memorably by Aisling Franciosi. The Nightingale had its world premiere at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, where it won two awards.

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The violence is indeed graphic in the film now available on Amazon Prime with a vicious rape, the murder of the young woman’s husband as he tries to save her and the unthinkable killing of their little baby at the British captain’s behest.

The violence comes as a rude shock as the early part of the movie shows endearing scenes between husband, wife and new baby with the parents speaking in lyrical Irish to each other and Claire singing a haunting Irish ballad.

The violence comes fast and furious. The intent of director Jennifer Kent is clearly to show us the vicious truth about colonialism and the thin veneer of civilization that can so quickly vanish when the oppressor decides there are no laws to hold him back.

The treatment of the Irish sent to Australia as virtual slaves have been well documented especially in Robert Hughes’s great work The Fatal Shore and no place was worse for the deported than Van Diemen’s Land as Tasmania was then known.

Cover art for Robert Hughes book The Fatal Shore.

Cover art for Robert Hughes book The Fatal Shore.

Kent’s movie quickly turns into a revenge narrative as Claire takes off in pursuit of the homicidal captain who has left to seek another posting.

There was, of course, another horrifically treated group, the Aborigines, who were wiped out and treated like troublesome subhumans and even Claire who brings an Aborigine guide with her clearly considers him as barely capable of humanity too.

The original hunter becomes the hunted as Claire and her guide begin closing in on the British captain and his entourage but the funereal pace of events and lack of amplitude about the main characters makes the movie a chore rather than a joy to watch.

The final chapter makes little sense in terms of what came before, leaving the viewer more confused than clear-eyed about what the whole point was.

The promo poster for The Nightingale.

The promo poster for The Nightingale.

There is a valid comparison to Scorsese’s Gangs of New York where you are left realizing that civilization and government were no certain things at key moments in the history of democracy.

British savagery and colonial power obsession and how that impacted the Irish and the Aborigines is at the heart of The Nightingale. Like Gangs of New York, it makes us realize just how shaky the pillars of democratic government really are.

Arguably, we could look on Trump’s dismantling of so many of the safeguards for democratic institutions in Washington today as a cautionary tale about the abuse of power.

In that light, The Nightingale has a lot to teach us.

Will you be watching The Nightingale? Do you think the depiction of this violence is warranted? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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