Aisling Franciosi: 'We didn't want the audience to have the chance to look away'

Aisling Franciosi: 'We didn't want the audience to have the chance to look away'

Rising Irish-Italian star discusses her role in Jennifer Kent's brutal period thriller The Nightingale

At a time when violence in film is supposed to thrill, entertain and titillate audiences, Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale will shake even the most desensitised viewer. Set in 18th-century Tasmania during British colonial rule, Kent's brutally authentic film is about Clare, a young Irish convict played by Aisling Franciosi. After suffering violence, rapes and the unimaginable loss of her family at the hands of British officers, Clare begrudgingly befriends the Aboriginal tracker, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), and their two histories of trauma become one path in the demand for justice.

'There was something really special about the script that made me want to fight to the death to get the role,' recalls Franciosi. In fact, she wanted the role so badly, she started her research before even landing the job.

'I was shocked at how systematic it was,' says Franciosi. 'Yes, convicts were sent there for real crimes, but a lot of people were sent over for petty things, like stealing food. [Britain] sent their most hardened criminals to Tasmania. At one point the ratio of men to women was nine to one so they started sending women there, basically to populate the colony. You can imagine how horrific it was to be a woman.'

In The Nightingale, we don't have to imagine. The film is relentless with showing us the evil that was done to female convicts and the Aboriginal population. 'Rape is an action of horrific violence, domination and destruction,' says Franciosi. 'It goes hand-in-hand with war. In the film, we wanted to emphasis that it wasn't a body assault was being done to, but a human being.' To accomplish this, Kent was specific about how to shoot the rape scenes: no skin, no pleasure; instead the camera focuses on faces, Clare's in particular.

While preparing for her role, Franciosi met with survivors of assault to aid the authenticity of her performance, something that was 'sobering and upsetting'. It also gave her the responsibility to represent that experience accurately. 'After screenings, people have come up and said thank you for sharing what rape is like and what PTSD is like. A woman came up to me and said that as a victim of sexual violence she felt understood watching The Nightingale. That was really powerful.'

Franciosi is aware that for some, the violence will be too much, but she hopes The Nightingale will allow its audience to confront the brutality of history. 'We didn't want the audience to have the chance to look away,' she explains. 'I think a lot of TV and film allows you to disengage and distance yourself. I think it was important that we make the audience face it.'

While it's easy to get wrapped up in the violence, The Nightingale is also full of beautiful moments between Clare and Billy as they come to understand that they are both victims of systematic oppression. 'By treating her with basic human respect and teaching her empathy over cyclical violent, Billy saves Clare from almost destroying herself,' says Franciosi. That's what she's taking away from the film, alongside learning just how deeply the resilience of women runs.

'So many women had to endure horrific circumstances. Clare's protecting her hub of a normal life and her future, her child and her husband. She's enduring horrific abuse, just to cling to the hope of something better and protect her family. If that's not strength I don't know what the hell is.'

General release Fri 29 Nov.

The Nightingale

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Australia / Canada / USA
  • 2h 16min
  • Directed by: Jennifer Kent
  • Cast: Sam Claflin, Aisling Franciosi, Damon Herriman

Clare (Franciosi) is a singer and convicted thief in 1825 Van Diemens’ Land who, after enduring terrible loss at the hands of some English soldiers, sets out with reluctant tracker Billy (Ganambarr) and murder in her mind. Franciosi is an astonishingly resilient and determined heroine and it’s a grim reminder of the…