Netflix UK film review: Judy & Punch
Bianca Garner | On 02, Apr 2020
Director: Mirrah Foulkes
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie, Gillian Jones
Watch Judy & Punch online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Punch and Judy shows have been around for a very long time, since the early sixteenth century to be precise. The characters have been entertaining European audiences for centuries, however the story is told from the perspective of Punch. Mirrah Foulkes’ directorial debut, Judy & Punch, is a post-#MeToo feminist fairytale that uses characters from the puppet show as a backdrop for a story that deals with the brutality of misogyny and domestic violence. Judy & Punch is ultimately an inspiring tale of female empowerment which may be hard to watch in some places but is a must-see for its central performances by Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman.
The film follows a couple who happen to share the same names as the puppets they play, Judy (Wasikowska) and Punch (Herriman). They perform their puppet show in the town of Seaside, England, which isn’t actually anywhere near the sea. Punch is keen to get out of the town and be found by talent scouts, but he’s struggling to keep on the wagon. Judy is the real talent of the couple, and the one who keeps the small family functioning. One day she leaves the baby in the care of Punch, only for tragedy to strike due to his drunkenness. Judy’s problems don’t stop there, as when she confronts Punch, she is met by violence and discarded in the woods on the outskirts of town. Luckily, Judy finds shelter with a community of outcasts in the forest, and decides to get her revenge.
Judy & Punch is a highly enjoyable oddball film and very macabre (think something along the lines of Monty Python and Terry Gilliam’s work). It can take some time getting used to the dark comedic tones and not all of the jokes land – some of the one-liners and cartoonish characters feel a little cliched at times. The supporting cast are strong, such as Gillian Jones’ Dr. Goodtime and Terry Norris’ Scaramouche, but both feel slightly underused. There are also some pacing issues, the first act being a little slow to get going, and the second act beginning to drag before the film speeds up for a satisfying finale.
When Foulkes’ script becomes more serious and dramatic, the film becomes far more interesting in terms of acting as a commentary on the abuse and misogyny women have endured for centuries in a patriarchal society. Herriman’s Punch is an interesting and complex villain who is narcissistic and abusive towards his wife; Herriman presents us with a man consumed by toxic masculinity and driven not only by drink, but by the glory of fame. However, Punch is just your standard straightforward “baddie”; through both Foulkes direction and Herriman performance, we see that Punch is a weak, fragile man who needs Judy to function properly. It’s a very compelling take on the fragility of toxic masculinity, and demonstrates to us how the patriarchy system also affects the men that exist in it.
The film’s real MVP is the wonderful Mia Wasikowska, who presents us with a female character who is strong because of her wits, intelligence and compassion for others. In one beautiful scene we see Judy performing shadow puppets for her infant daughter, which shows us that Judy doesn’t perform for money and fame but to bring others happiness and delight. In the film’s second act we see the effects of Punch’s brutality towards us, and Judy becomes a shadow of her former self – we watch as she triumphantly recovers and becomes stronger as a result. In the hands of a less capable actress, this character development would have come off as tired, but thanks to Wasikowska’s performance we fully believe her transformation into this hardened warrior.
Judy & Punch can be hard to watch at times, therefore those who are quite sensitive may wish to avoid it; although Foulkes makes the decision not to show certain bodily harm on-screen, the scene of Judy’s attack remains one of the film’s hardest scenes to watch. However, it is worth seeking this film out for Wasikowska’s and Herriman’s performances, the score by François Tétaz and the film’s cinematography by Stefan Duscio – this is one hell of an entertaining show.
Judy & Punch is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.