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  Judy & Punch Puppetry Of The Heinous
Year: 2019
Director: Mirrah Foulkes
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie, Jacek Koman, Amy Christian, Tom Budge, Karuna Stamell, Virginia Gay, Eddie Baroo, Terry Norris, Don Bridges, Lucy Velik, Gillian Jones, Paul Ireland, Daisy Axon, Michael M. Foster, Ben Knight, Sue Hill
Genre: Horror, Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman) are two puppeteers in the seventeenth century who are experts at their craft, but it is a dual effort and without one, the act would not work out. However, Punch is very keen to better his standing and hopes they will attract the attention of talent scouts and take them to the big city, though he has to be careful he does not take a tipple at all, since that can adversely affect both his temperament and his skill. They live in a house at the outskirts of the town of Seaside (which is not near the sea) with their elderly servants and their baby, but perhaps Judy puts too much trust in her husband not to mess everything up completely...

The Punch and Judy story, as an act, runs heavily on tradition, as every performance is more or less the same, staged by a variety of "professors", but unchanging since the inception of the entertainment. However, the violence inherent in the narrative came in for some squeamishness the further time went on, as the lead character Mr Punch was wont to not only beat up everyone he came into contact with, but that included his wife and baby, cue "Is this the sort of thing we should be showing our children?" thinkpieces and ruminations. With this film, writer and director Mirrah Foulkes, an actress making her feature debut at the helm, had two methods to approach this.

She could either present it as a savage criticism of the whole concept of using domestic abuse, among other things, as fun, or she could dig deeper and get to the heart of the matter, that Mr Punch's behaviour was not demonstrated to be laudable in the puppet show, and he was actually the villain, or at best a mischievous antihero whose crimes were rightly punished. In effect, Foulkes adopted both of those stances, for there was nothing admirable about her Punch as depicted here, but she repositioned it as a tale of a woman seeking recompense for a terrible incident inflicted upon her by her spouse. With that in mind, you could feel certain areas of the audience bristling.

Yet it succeeded very well, not least because Foulkes had a very good eye for a captivating image that rendered this somewhere nearer a fairy tale, along with its repercussions to telling such ancient stories centuries later when arguably the world had moved on, or at least it should have. That fable quality was possibly the strongest suit in a film with a powerful, but not strident, message, and offered resonance to what could have been a facile and reductive reading of what after all was not taken seriously even by the kids who watched such puppet shows. The crimes Punch commits here, when acted out by real people, lent an air of the grotesque to the proceedings that would not have been present with glove puppets, which was let's face it a man with his arms up hitting himself on the hands for a few minutes.

This stuck close to the tradition in that Punch abuses the baby, though not through malice, he's simply an idiot - the dog and the sausages aid him in his downfall, as in the puppetry. What he does to Judy when she asks, not unreasonably, what has happened to their child when it goes missing is more on the evil scale of activity and leads her to be buried in a shallow grave, left for dead. But there was more to this even than that, as the witch hunters, always seeking to bolster their social respectability off the backs of the unfortunate souls they victimise and scapegoat, include most of the community, whipped up into a bloodthirsty frenzy by supposed moral leaders who are nothing of the kind. How this ties in with Punch and Judy should by all rights have been awkward, yet though the film probably ran a shade too long, its purpose was to make you think, and in that it achieved its goals. Not perfect, but a very strong showing, and instructive to contrast with Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's nineties comic book Mr Punch. Music by François Tétaz.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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