For a film that’s prominently taken place in the mid-17th century, Mirrah Foulkes’ feature-length directorial debut has a surprising amount of modern needle drops. Establishing the tone right from the beginning as a fun, lighthearted twist on history, Judy and Punch takes the work of Leonard Cohen, J.S Bach, and classical 80’s synth, and stirs them into a pot of freshly cooked biting satire. In an akin approach to the famed Horrible Histories series of children’s literature; Judy and Punch is just as playful, brutal, and tedious as the aforementioned collection of books. Just like with Horrible Histories, the film is very fun to watch at first, but after a few minutes in, you start to feel restless with the material, and how slow the plot progresses. Everything is perfectly detailed in its standard narrative structure; rising action, climax, and resolution included. It’s more so the execution of this familiar arrangement, that fails to really grab the attention of its audience.
On a more positive note, Mia Wasikowska, an actress who I’ve time and time again helmed her as one of the best actors of our generation, is once again vivid in her sympathetic, vengeful role. Her range of troubled, tragic shortcomings is nothing short of entertaining, as we view this poor innocent soul, go through the very worst of man’s idiotic power play. Opposing Mia’s performance, is her co-star Damon Herriman, who manages to bring the best and absolute worst out of numerous terrible real-life people (Charles Manson included) into his array of dynamic characters. Punch is no exception, and his diabolical tom-foolery and drunken, unforgivable actions, makes for another career-defining piece of dramatic fiction into Herriman’s filmography.
All included with it’s wondrous performances; the costumes, cinematography, and it’s post-medieval landscapes, gives a feeling of genuine realism to the depicted era. Although I would have preferred a more prevalent usage of shadows and lighting, to make the film feel more eerie and dangerous, the old English text featured in it’s end credits, and the Tim Burton-esque score, makes up for some of the film’s lesser quality drawbacks. There’s even a dog that wear an Elizabethan collar in this film!
Charming although overlong and predictable, Judy and Punch is a mostly effective exercise in satirical, historical fiction. Mocking toxic masculinity as a bi-product of political corruption, the end result in one that never overstays its welcome, but also manages to slightly annoy it’s audience through thick and thin. If there’s one thing that cannot be denied about Judy and Punch, is that Mia Wasikowska will always reign supreme!
Judy & Punch screened at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. Samuel Goldwyn Films will release the film later this year…