Judy and Punch is a curious film. It’s the reimagining of the quite problematic childhood puppet show some of us will remember, Punch and Judy, told from Judy’s perspective. It’s frightfully violent, darkly comic but doesn’t quite succeed in being the feminist film it attempts to be.
The story is based on the Victorian puppet show Punch (Damon Herriman) and Judy (Mia Wasikowska). Except for this time, it is Judy’s story that takes front and centre and the title of the film accurately reflects that Judy’s name comes first. The story is set in the fictional town of Seaside. Judy is the master puppeteer yet Punch is the whose ambition drives the show. He is the showman but through his recklessness and alcoholism, tragedy strikes and worst still, he lies to try and save himself.
This film is brought to us by writer/director Mirrah Foulkes. It is interesting seeing Judy through a woman’s gaze and these two characters are well rounded. It is equal billing. She manages to tell a story without it descending into preachy melodrama. In no small part is she aided by brilliant performances by the entire cast. The cinematography adds to the dark dramatic comedy that this film sits in and is sublime.
The first half of the film is told at a cracking pace and the level of violence that Judy and Punch dole out on each other appears commonplace in Seaside society where women are hung for witchcraft without proof etc. The main problem with this film is that Judy is not in it for quite a chunk of time and that means we, the audience, almost forget about her. When she does reappear we can guess what will happen and it leads to us guessing what the ending will be.
For all its flaws, Judy and Punch is a timely examination of social norms that have long stood commonplace, men being believed over women no matter how flawed the man, low level violence and mob hysteria. It is only a shame that Judy wasn’t in the film more.
Judy and Punch is available to stream now.
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