LIFF 2019: Judy & Punch

Leeds International Film Festival opened it’s doors for the 33rd time on the 6th of November and with it came some of the most highly anticipated films of the year. One of which in particular being the fictitious telling of the infamous pairing of Punch and Judy.

It comes as Australian filmmaker, Mirrah Foulkes’, debut feature and is packed with drama, intrigue and most importantly a narrative that massively subverts your expectations of the film.

Set in 17th Century England, the film follows the imagined relationship of the pair who started the, arguably, most famous puppet show to ever have existed: Punch (Damon Herriman) and Judy (Mia Wasikowska). With the backdrop of blatant misogyny in the form of witch trials and stonings, this film does not shy away from using satire to infiltrate and tear apart the sexist structure that was in place then, and the remanence of which still exists now. Following a series of devastating events resulting from alcoholism, Punch finds himself without Judy, and slowly realises that without her his show cannot exist, a credit that he never formally gave to her when she was with him.

Mia Wasikowska is brilliant as Judy. She brings a certain composure to the role that is fearless, ultimately portraying an extremely empowering, complex character which is unfortunately still a rarity in most feature films. The very fact that I’ve highlighted that her character is ‘complex’ just goes to show how very rare a quality that is, a shame considering how far the film industry has claimed it has progressed in recent years.

Damon Herriman dissolves into the role of Punch. I would often find myself forgetting that I was watching an actor play a role when he was on screen, a testament to just how very believable he was as Punch.

Overall this film has done something which I love, it has made what is a period piece exciting- believable- powerful- all the things which so many period pieces leave out. They have genuinely personalised these characters, something which is so sorely missed from many period films- where they choose costume over substance. I believed every moment of the film as they managed to weave very serious issues with moments of outrageous humour. Having said this, it did fall short on occasion. There were times where the narrative slightly dragged which made the overall feeling provoked by the film a tad underwhelming. However, the punchy ending certainly made me leave with a smile. I don’t know if I would view this again but I would recommend that you seek it out for yourself, if nothing more than for the unique tone that the film provides.

Now showing at City Screen in York: https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/city-screen-picturehouse

The Leeds International Film Festival is running until the 21st November: https://www.leedsfilm.com/film-festivals/leeds-international-film-festival/liff-2019-programme/

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Fiona Hughes

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