Judy & Punch

The random property-to-make-into-a-film generator lands this week on Punch and Judy, the Sooty and Sweep of domestic violence.

As the reversed title suggests, this Punch has been spiked with feminism by first-time director Mirrah Foulkes, who uses the traditional puppet show as a springboard for a feminist fairytale set in a landlocked town called Seaside. Its inhabitants spend their days watching public hangings, getting pissed at McDrinkies and enjoying the puppetry of Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman), whose fondness for sausages is surpassed only by that of hitting his wife – until she sets her sights on Richard Madeley revenge.

What follows is very much anti-Punch and Judy, as though Foulkes has looked at the source material and simply said “no, mate” (she’s Australian). She checks off the show’s ingredients (crocodile, constable, baby) with about as much affection for its subject as this year’s Judybut as a deliberate and welcome political viewpoint; a stand against people who want to go back to a time when Punch and Judy didn’t seem really weird.

Like Monty Python meets Angela Carter, the film uses dark humour and playful anachronisms to satirise modern-day misogyny, mob rule and witch hunts. Wasikowska is in her element opposite a captivating Herriman, while the eccentric soundtrack runs the gamut from carnivalesque composition to Leonard Cohen‘s Who By Fire (we would also have accepted So Long, Marionette).

Narratively straightforward but conceptually unusual, this is a punchy morality play and the most frequent use of the word since Joe Biden.

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