Judy and Punch
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie
Shades of Monty Python in this ambitious but flawed Australian-made live action ‘origin story’ of the 16thCentury-spawned Punch and Judy puppet show. The setting is the small village of Seaside, where local entertainments consist mainly of stonings of women suspected of being witches, and rowdy theatre shows. Herriman is the charismatic showman Mr Punch who fronts a bawdy and violent puppet show with his long-suffering wife and accomplished puppeteer, Judy (Wasikowka). Offstage, Punch is an alcoholic self-pitying bully and despite Judy’s desperate pleas to him to give up the drink, he repeatedly succumbs. When she reluctantly leaves him in charge of their baby, tragedy occurs, setting off a bloody chain of events. It’s a diverting enough piece of dark whimsy, which sees writer-director retooling the notoriously misogynistic tale with a feminist spin to an eclectic soundtrack featuring everything from Leonard Cohen to rinky-dink synth covers of Bach. Energy flags though when Herriman, whose fiery portrayal of Punch conjures up the memory of the late Richard Harris (he resembles him too), is absent from the screen, and the comparatively bland Wasikowska is left to carry the story.