A critical introduction to The Nightingale: gender, race and troubled histories on screen

Michelle Arrow*, James Findlay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Acclaimed Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s film The Nightingale has generated intense debate since its premiere at the 2018 Venice Film Festival. Set during the Black War in Van Diemen’s Land in 1825, the film is an unflinching depiction of colonial and sexual violence. Kent told The Saturday Paper that she ‘wanted to tell a story that is relevant to my history and my country’. Her vision of British colonisation, and its consequences for those caught in its wake, taps into a conversation with a strong presence in Australia’s public, political and cultural life over the last three decades. This article critically introduces The Nightingale as an historical film; that is, a film set in the past which offers an interpretation of history. We ask: how does The Nightingale represent the past? How might we situate it within longer traditions of historical representation of frontier conflict, and the convict experience? How did audiences respond to the film? And finally, how might we situate The Nightingale in the moment of its reception? What does it mean to make a film about colonial violence at the same moment as the Uluru statement called for truth-telling about our history?

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-14
Number of pages12
JournalStudies in Australasian Cinema
Issue number1
Early online date12 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Australian film
  • Australian history
  • history wars
  • settler-colonial studies


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