Judy & Punch review: when Judy fights back

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Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie and Virginia Gay star in a slightly different take on the Punch and Judy story – here’s our review.

Everyone in England has had an experience with puppet show Punch & Judy. While nowadays those experiences are few and far between, many have sat cross-legged in front of a mini-theatre and watched one puppet beat up another puppet. However, when people really looked at the show, many saw that there was infanticide, spousal abuse and many different problems. Now a new film by Mirrah Foulkes, Judy & Punch, attempts to satirise this story in dark, brooding fashion.

Judy & Punch is set in a fictional town called Seaside which, as it turns out, is nowhere near the sea. The titular couple are puppeteers attempting to resurrect their acclaimed show. In the past, they were once a successful entertainment group in the Big Smoke. However, due to Punch’s drinking and temperament, they were ousted from fame and fortune. Now keen to reclaim it, Punch’s ambition and addiction collide, leading to a great tragedy that Judy must avenge.

Judy & Punch is unexpectedly funny and brutal at the same time. Foulkes writes and directs very brilliant tonal shifts that are equally shocking and entertaining. There is one scene that will cause an insane gasp followed by muffled laughter as Foulkes blends the despairing and the slapstick. It’s a shocking and hilarious film that may not hit this perfect balance at all times but is still directed with intelligence.

The lead actors are brilliant both separately and together. They initially brim with chemistry, underscored by Punch’s darkness. Mia Wasikowska is fierce but kindly as Judy, pushed to breaking point by her husband. As she has to regather strength, realising that her world has been completely broken, Wasikowska adds a real strength and vulnerability to the film. Damon Herriman, who has become brilliantly adept at portraying villainous characters such as Charles Manson in Mindhunter, performs Punch superbly. Here is a self-serving man who thinks only of himself and the booze he can consume. Herriman is gleefully watchable and is mesmerising to watch, no matter how devious his acts are.

At times, Judy & Punch can be a little uneven, particularly coming into the final half, where a somewhat promised final confrontation feels like it should be grander than it actually is. Also, when Judy is cast out and has to develop her revenge, the story drags and loses the first half’s snappiness that made the set-up of the story so delicious to watch. Still, with tremendous acting and a great use of dark comedy, Judy & Punch pulls mostly all the right strings.

With no wooden performances, Mirrah Foulkes brings together a brilliantly fantastical movie and a modern twist to classic entertainment. That’s the way to do it!

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