Or: I want to live in the heretic camp
That’s the way to do it.
TW: Infant death, violence against women
Seaside (nowhere near the sea), puppeteers Judy and Punch are trying to resurrect their marionette show in an an anarchic town on the brink of mob rule.
In the small town of Seaside, somewhere in the middle of the country and nowhere near the ocean, Punch enjoys his position as the greatest puppeteer in the land. Although, it seems only he really believes this. While he entertains the shows patrons well enough, he dreams of being discovered and taking the Punch & Judy show to the top. Judy also displays excellent puppetry skills but is forced to play second fiddle to her irresponsible swine of a husband. Because OF COURSE.
Along with their baby girl, they’re trying their best – though Punch isn’t putting his back in to it. In fact, the only thing he seems able to truly get behind is the bottle, much to Judy’s chagrin. Meanwhile, the Seaside residents are going mad for Stoning Day and the local authorities seem very keen to condemn anybody even remotely different e.g. anyone who could conceivably be accused of witchcraft.
One day Judy makes the fatal mistake of trusting her baby daddy with the little one while she pops out – with strict instructions for him to stay sober. If you know the story of Punch & Judy even loosely, then you will probably see this bit coming. It doesn’t end well for anybody but Punch.
Judy returns from town and when she realises what he’s done, Punch beats her to a pulp and leaves her for dead, buried in the woods. He then sets about framing their long-serving servants for double murder. Kindly Inspector Derrick Fairweather begins to investigate the case as something doesn’t sit right but hasn’t much to do after thugs extract the servants’ confessions. It’s a done deal with a public hanging for the locals to look forward to – and a nice clean getaway for Punch, who promptly hooks up with Polly, the comely landlady of a local ale house.
THE END. Except… well, you can’t keep a good woman down, especially with vengeance on her mind.
Judy is found in the brush and taken to the Heretic camp, where the town’s ostracized live together in a form of domestic harmony. Slowly, the mostly female Heretics nurse Judy back to health and a bond is formed. Although she doesn’t quite agree when she’s advised not to seek revenge on Punch.
As the town prepare to hang doddery old Scaramouche (excellent name) and his wife, Maid Maude – Punch is starting to realise that his act isn’t quite as polished as it was under Judy’s skilled hand. Polly hasn’t the talent to keep up – and her twin sons, Pancake and Flea – don’t add the life-like flair he’d hoped for. Furthermore, old punchy Punch is back to his old tricks of abusing his women and being a drunken coward.
When Judy returns to Seaside under cover of darkness, she learns of the servants’ upcoming hanging and it simply won’t wash. Especially since they more or less raised her after she was orphaned. Will she seek suitable justice for the murder of her child, the framing of her servants (and the rest)? Come on dudes, would we really be here if the answer was no?
Well, I enjoyed this one. I love the setting, the overall look and costuming. The puppets are great and the central performances are fantastic, not that I’d expect anything less from my boo Mia Wasikowska. While she’s obviously great, Damon Herriman really is next level as horrible Punch. He’s just the right level of pantomime villain and he really makes the film. I love to hate him – and you know what else? He played the ultimate real life villain Charles Manson in both Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood and an episode of Mindhunter. Fact fans.
Unfortunately, though I liked an awful lot about it, it’s rather slow in the middle. It starts well and ends strongly, but the second act is rather flabby and that makes the whole thing drag. I’d really have liked more to have been made of the Heretics too – and a few training montages wouldn’t have gone amiss. I mean, in every film, not just this one.
However, this doesn’t shy away from violence against women or the fact that Punch is a horrible toad with no spine. His comeuppance is quite delicious though quite merciful given his crimes. The film also says a lot about pack mentality, voyeurism (when it comes to the public punishments) and labeling/punishing anybody even slightly different.
Good pick, Jill, my queen.
Rating: 3.5 whacks from Punch’s truncheon out of 5 (but not to Judy, obvs)
What does my love think of Judy & Punch? Would she leave it for dead in a shallow woodland grave or take it on the road? Find out here, you brutes!