Director: Mirrah Foulkes
Writer: Mirah Foulkes
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman
Producers: Michele Bennett, Nash Edgerton, Danny Gabai
Music: François Tétaz
Cinematography: Stefan Duscio
Editor: Dany Cooper
Running time: 105mins
What’s the story: In a town called Seaside, nowhere near the sea, Judy (Wasikowska) and Punch (Herriman) plan to relaunch their puppet show. But, when Punch commits a terrible wrong, Judy plots revenge against him.
What’s the verdict: Australian writer-director Mirrah Foulkes turns the traditional Punch & Judy story on its head, with Judy’s nagging shrew replaced by a vengeful heroine for the #MeToo generation.
So, is the actor-turned-director’s revisionist retelling of the story the way to do it?
No, not really.
Like any decent children’s entertainment, Judy & Punch starts out well enough with an eerie sojourn through the sinister village of Seaside.
After gliding past threatening urchins, bawdy trollops and dubious hawkers, we find ourselves in a packed boozer where Mr. Punch (Herriman, the spit of Heath Ledger) is performing his violent puppet show.
Soon it becomes clear that it is his patronised wife Judy (Wasikowska) who is literally pulling the strings, keeping the show one step from catastrophe. She’s also the one minding the baby at home.
After a shocking turn of events, played for laughs in a strangely appealing set piece, Mr. Punch ventures down a seriously more vicious route, while Judy is left for dead.
Taken in by a band of outcasts living in the woods, she plots her revenge. Revenge, that when it comes, will surely be sweet.
Providing a modern feminist spin on the tale’s 16th century roots in the Italian commedia dell’arte would seem a liberally acceptable way to update the story.
But, after engagingly establishing a twisted Dickensian alternative reality, Foulkes’ film begins to show dramatic strain. Particularly after Judy leaves the household-from-hell for the woodland commune. Wasikowska is competent as the misogyny lancing rebel, but the formulaic plot leaves little room for manoeuvre
Punch doubles down as a manipulative killer while Judy unconvincingly sets herself up as the moral saviour of the village. A place where residents rather-too-eagerly join in the literal stoning to death of older women who are inconvenient rather than diabolical.
The other worldliness becomes tiresome where it should grow more intriguing, and the creaking plot struggles to support the 21st century politics.
You’re left feeling anything but pleased as Punch.
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