Socialist Worker

Judy and Punch—an ambitious, slightly clunky dark comedy

This strange drama turns the story of Punch and Judy into a tale of revenge against an abusive husband. But it doesn’t always work, writes Sarah Bates

Issue No. 2709

Mia Wasikowska as Judy and Damon Herriman as Punch

Mia Wasikowska as Judy and Damon Herriman as Punch


Set in the town of Seaside, Judy and Punch is a magical retelling of the traditional British puppet show.

It follows married puppeteers Judy and Punch as they attempt to raise a child and make their show successful.

It’s billed as a “black comedy drama”.

Save for some well-deserved laughs, it’s pretty horrific throughout.

There are some funny scenes involving dogs and sausages, but tragedy is never far away.

Mia Wasikowska stars as Judy. For those who are familiar with her work, it’s not surprising that she manages to infuse the character with a depth beyond simply being a victim.

And Damon Herriman does a decent job of portraying Punch, although little is known about his character save for his proclivity for booze, violence and child abuse.

But it’s not just Punch who poses a threat to Judy—Seaside is a highly dangerous place to be a woman.

Stonings and hangings are a regular town entertainment.

Women are targeted, often for being witches, and for such crimes as looking at the moon for too long or all their chickens dying.

Benedick Hardie is underused in his role as Seaside’s new hapless constable, trying to understand the town’s chaotic ways.

Punch is a violent, drunk bully, who terrorises Judy and beats her until she almost dies.

The film’s third act centres on her quest for revenge.

Spurred

Judy is spurred into action when she sees her beloved servants getting the blame for her baby’s death.

Unable to return to Seaside, Judy joins a group of women and children exiled from the town. Generally they are women who are at risk of being denounced as witches because they are skilled artisans.

It’s an ambitious project for director Mirrah Foulkes’s debut, but at points feels too clunky.

Fine, Judy is able to exact some sort of revenge on Punch.

But the scene where she convinces Seaside to abandon their women burning ways and embrace the exiled women is too cheesy.

And the film suffers from being too unfocused. I didn’t feel I got to understand anything about Seaside in much depth.

Seaside is set in neither a specific time or place. That works well for the most part but leads to some truly offensive attempts at Irish and Scottish accents.

The exiled community seems interesting—but save for some small pieces of exposition we don’t find out much about them.

After centuries of the puppet Judy being beaten by husband Punch, it’s refreshing to see him get his comeuppance.

But I couldn’t help feel the film doesn’t quite punch through in the points it’s trying to make.

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Reviews
Fri 12 Jun 2020, 15:50 BST
Issue No. 2709
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