Film Review: Judy & Punch

Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy & Punch is an impressive fairy tale. Boasting a distinctive atmosphere and strong performances, the film is an engrossing watch. 

In the town of Seaside (which is nowhere near the sea), puppeteers Punch and Judy are trying to resurrect their marionette show for the rowdy, hotheaded locals…

Loosely based on the Punch & Judy show, writer-director Mirrah Foulkes’ debut is an ambitious combination of fairy tale, satire, and social commentary. The filmmaker combines these elements to create a most memorable picture. 

Judy & Punch functions on a number of levels. Satirical elements are strong throughout. Foulkes’ luxuriates in the darker side of traditional fairy tales. There is a question of the supernatural, yet Foulkes uses slight of hand, just like the magic show depicted. Furthermore, the film asks questions about the nature of violence and retribution. 

The narrative mirrors the marionette show itself, albeit with a much meatier core. Foulkes seems to have fun including various elements of the show whilst keeping focus on the central strand of Judy’s journey. The film is far more satisfying for eschewing a traditional revenge narrative. Instead, Foulkes offers something more thoughtful, whilst sending a clear message. 

The setting of Judy & Punch is wonderful, with the small English town reminiscent of earlier British horror. There is a pervading sense of macabre which is delightful. The darkness comes out in violence, but also in the peril of superstition. Foulkes offers a hopeful conclusion, whilst not neglecting darker aspects. 

Cinematography in the film is great. The opening tracking of the hooded figure into the show a wonderful introduction to both the setting and the tone. Elsewhere, lighting and colour is used very effectively. The film is visually appealing; with great costumes and set design. The visuals are wonderfully enhanced by the music, which combines a new score with established pieces. 

Casting in the film is superb. Mia Wasikowska is excellent as Judy, whilst Damon Herriman brings his strikingly intensity to Punch. Terry Norris and Tom Budge are great among the supporting cast.

Foulkes has delivered an original, creative, and compelling debut with Judy & Punch. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Judy & Punch is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019, and released in UK cinemas on 22nd November 2019.

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