Traditionally puppets have been used to entertain children. From sock and hand puppets to the more intricately designed marionettes, they are used to tell a story. Like all toys, they have their sinister sides too, ventriloquist dummies, for example, need no help to come across as terrifying. Combining the two sides of puppets, to entertain and fear is no more apparent than in the ‘Punch & Judy’ show. We all know them as hand puppets depicting a husband and wife act where Punch repeatedly beats Judy, as well as other characters in the show, including the Devil. This puppet show origin is reimagined in Mirrah Foulkes first feature film, where Punch and his wife Judy are the puppeteers returning to their home town in the hopes of reviving their show.
Starting out as what seems to be a story about a talented work-worn wife and her egotistical drunkard husband try to fix the latter’s mistakes but one small incident with some sausages sets in motion a series of devastating events, the film twists into witch hunt hysteria and a slow but swift revenge story. Luckily, Foulkes manages to create just the right atmosphere and tone, despite the film not having a specific date, time or place, with only a variant of period dress and an assortment of accents you’d find around the UK and Ireland. Careful not to name real places, such the townsfolk referring to the capital, ‘the big smoke’ and one slip up from Punch saying his companion will have to go back to whoring herself out to Welshmen, the location of ‘Seaside’, the fictional town, nowhere near the coast, is a perfect setting as an incubator for ignorance, violence, and lawlessness.
Punch himself, played too hideously well by Damon Herriman, fresh from his blink and you’ll miss it turn as Charles Manson in Tarrantino’s latest, really gets under your skin from the moment you meet him. Mia Wasikowska as Judy, on the other hand, stands out amongst the crowds as well as able to shrink to the shadows when she needs, stands up against Herriman’s loud showman with quiet ease. But as the film, unlike the puppet show, is called Judy and Punch, the former feels underused. The story needed more Judy and a little less Punch.
Although the balance may have been slightly off, the fact that the film literally plays out the original puppet show that we all know and most likely not love, it is about domestic abuse after all, the elements in the story such as the missing baby, the dog stealing the sausages, Punch beating Judy are all woven into the fabric of the film’s take on the puppet show and THAT is very entertaining. Exploring the darker side of the dark side of a puppet show is something that you don’t get to see in a film about revenge.
Dir: Mirrah Foulkes
Prd: Michele Bennett, Danny Gabai, Nash Edgerton
Scr: Mirrah Foulkes
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman
DoP: Stefan Duscio
Running time: 105 mins
Judy and Punch is released 22nd Nov 2019