“ The Nightingale”

“The Nightingale” is set in early 19th century Australia. Our protagonist, Clare, ( Aisling Franciosi ) is a Irish convict who is trying to get released from a penal colony where she lives with her loving husband , Aiden, ( Michael Sheasby ) and three-month-old daughter. The British officer in charge ( Sam Claflin) rapes her in front of her husband, shoots him, and tells his sergeant to silence the child. When the underling can’t, he throws the baby against a wall. Clare somehow survives the rifle butt to her head, swaddles her dead child and carries her through the colony. Clare calls on friends to place the baby in her father’s arms and bury both under a designated tree. Then, Clare is off to seek revenge.

Brutal, yes. But brutality in director and screenwriter Jennifer Kent’s hand is different from the Quentin Tarantino variety. Violence in “The Nightingale” is emotional. It is not violence for violence’s sake, nor is it being made fun of. Unlike a pornography expunger collecting his own cache of filth, Kent documents historical, sadistic viciousness rather than make fun of a culture that seems to vicariously enjoy viewing it.

On Clare’s revenge quest, vivid dream sequences swirl around her. Through crazed and in shock , she does take her friend’s advice and hires a black tracker, Billy, ( Baykali Ganambarr) to lead the way through the aboriginal forrest. The dripping fern and rain sounds are glorious, the mud and leeches less so. The high river, the lack of food and its procurement add adventurous scenes while bonding Billy and Claire as two oppressed souls: blackbird and nightingale.

Billy calls himself ” Blackbird” and he tells us that he doesn’t wish to be a white devil. The English have killed off most of his tribe. Billy is astounded by Claire’s own violence. When she stabs and pummels the ensign who killed her daughter, Billy turns his back on her. ” What did he do to you to turn you into a mad devil? ” More dream sequences follow and Billy stays. In one sweet scene, he offers a recipe for paste to dry-up Claire’s painfully milk-full breasts. ” None of your hocus-pokus on me” is her initial retort, but soon smokey ceremonies prove Billy’s ancient wisdom.

Though much of the film consists of 1700 style revenge, the themes of racism, colonial power, and freedom ring true. Some normal acts of kindness show when an elderly couple see Claire dazed and seemingly alone on the road. ” You look a fright. Come for a wash and a feed” , the man says. He later asks Billy to get up from the floor and eat at the table with them. Billy’s appreciation and tearful rage of ” This is my country” is understated acting at its best.

Expect raw emotional experience, and the most callous British officer ever depicted.

“My Cousin Rachel” (2017)

Not everyone remembers the first film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel “My Cousin Rachel” (1952), but it was Richard Burton’s first Oscar nomination. His last line, “Rachel, my torment”, made young girls wish they could elicit such power and passion.

Here, Sam Claflin plays a seemingly younger, more naive lover. A couple of scenes are almost smirk producing! Obsessive love merges with mystery and mistaken perception to give one an “Sense Of An Ending” jolt. In fact, these two based-on-book films would be fun to compare.

Du Maurier’s setting is 19th century Cornwall with its rocky cliffs, foamy seascapes, cantering horses and rumbling carriages. Her tenth novel,” My Cousin Rachel, published in the summer of 1951, uses the traditional Irish wolf hounds, the sunshine curse miasma and the stock romance elements to beautiful effect.

Philip Ashley is the 23-year-old narrator, the orphan and nephew of Ambroise Ashley. His beloved uncle writes Philip a letter imploring him to come to his rescue. His young wife,Rachel, is poisoning him, watching him like a hawk; and he fears for his sanity. He has fevers, headaches, and is light-sensitive. Ambroise distrusts his doctor, and piteously entreats Phillip: ” For God’s sake, come quickly!”.

When Phillip arrives at the villa, Dr. Gamboli intones, ” I have been expecting you. He is dead.” Phillip is to inherit the entire estate. Rachel has left for London, but weeks later will return with the storm. The dogs follow her upstairs and her commanding presence takes charge. Phillip attempts to confront her, but his anxious rapping on her door leaves her offering him tea. Her charms beguile even in her black mourning veil. He later tells her: “You are not the woman I hated.” Besotted, he gives her family pearls and increases her allowance. We hear servant whispers and rumors of a duel in her past between husband and lover, unbridled extravagance, and limitless appetite. Rachel Weisz seems born to play her namesake. She captures just the right winsome smiles and stoney eye glints.

The cinematography of Mike Eley is as memorable as any gothic romance filmed. Cliff falls, pearl cascading close-ups, make him a master of premonition. One of the most lovely scenes, features Phillip and Rachel’s romantic romp in a bed of bluebells. She is disinterested, he sated. There are alleyways with woman plucking chickens, candle lighted bedroom scenes, and ominous cliff paths to enjoy.

Director Roger Michell will undoubtably send viewers back to the author of ” The Birds” and may even have viewers purchasing ” Manderley Forever”: A Biography of Daphne Du Maurier by Tatiana De Rosnay translated into English this year. I could see this film again. One just wants more.

“Me Before You”

You don’t have to be an ampersand lover to enjoy the emotional intelligence  and the eyebrow embroidery  of  “Me Before You”‘s  star Emilia Clarke . The thirty-year -old’s  face is as fresh and transparent as a toddler’s. Her job is to make a paraplegic move from his implacable despair over his loss to a creatively imaginative being who can still give something to the world.  She is only partially successful.

Though based on Jo Jo Moyes’ novel and her screen script, the film still loses the nuances of  the euthanasia debate. This is a “love conquers most” kind of story. One that wouldn’t pit another cliche ” when you have your health you have everything” right next to it. Will Traynor loved his life. It was privileged and there were narcissistic and snobbish chords. He excelled at every sport and was the decision-maker in his company. His losses were as tragic as those of the symphony conductor in the French film ” Intouchables”.

His decision I liked no better than I did after closing the Moyes’ book. I have not read the sequel, but I  am curious. I know Louisa’s path after Will will not include seven year boyfriend Patrick of triathlon fame, or a holiday in Norway. I hope she doesn’t work at “Dignitas” in marketing or in palliative care. Either would be too pat. And besides, I liked her line to Will, ” Some choices you don’t get to make”.

While Director  Thea Shamock  abides by book and script, the film’s pace is slow and uneven. While the short and pithy sarcasm and directives of Will are enhanced, the ponderings of Lou are erased. We see her in action more than in thought. Charles Dance as Will’s father Steven is also softened. Matt Lewis plays the clueless Patrick just like I imagined him. Stephen Peacoke as Nathan, the physical therapist, added practicality, warmth and understanding of the intricacies of care. Janet McTeer portrayed Camilla Traynor, Will’s mother, with sympathy. The characters were underwritten compared to the novel, but Lou’s sister ( Jenna-Louise Coleman) maintained her importance naturally and with supportive feeling.

The cloying sound track of matched emotions is infuriating. When ” you know it can get hard sometimes”  started, I wanted to yell out, ” oh, please!”. The lyrics were like a highlighter over underlining over bold script in case you didn’t get it. It’s loudness overtook the moment. It distracted rather than deepened the feeling. The one quiet scene under the trees where you could hear the leaves rustle and share what Lou and Will heard was refreshing and further accentuated the corny , over-played score.

The acting is the movie’s strength and the cinematography is very good. The island storm scene arrestingly beautiful, if a tad over-metaphoric. You will remember the sexy shaving scene. You will delight in the strong parental love of both Will’s  and Lou’s family. It is not a great film, but I can do class-driven melodrama once in a blue moon. As Will Traynor suggests, “widen your horizons”.