BY ALEX GILSTON NOVEMBER 21, 2023
It’s been eight years since the last cinematic trip to Panem, in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Francis Lawrence returns to the directors chair to adapt The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes written by the author of the original trilogy, Suzanne Collins. We’re thrust into a different time in Panem, not too long after the rebellion. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a new spin on the Post-apocalyptic franchise, it may be left field but is a welcome addition.
Set on the eve of the 10th annual Hunger Games, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes follows an 18 year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) long before he became the feared President of Panem. As the games are at their most unfavourable, Chief Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) is looking into ways to drive up their popularity. Snow makes some suggestions which lands him as the mentor of the female District 12 tribute Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Ziegler). Helping her offers him the chance to find his place in the Capitol amongst the most powerful.
Despite The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes being set in the world of The Hunger Games, and also committing to screen the 10th edition of the games you shouldn’t expect this to be like the previous films. A running theme alongside collective action in The Hunger Games is hope. The hope that a better world exists beyond us, a kinder world. Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes acts as a juxtaposition to this. It’s completely bleak from start to finish. Where The Hunger Games shows us the end of the games and the Capitol’s rule over Panem, this shows us the beginning of the tyranny. This doesn’t make the narrative any less interesting as we follow President Snow.
Coriolanus Snow is the protagonist and we follow the start of his rise to power. We're given a fleshed out insight into his evolution from aspiring student to feared leader. Tom Blyth plays him incredibly well as opposed to his presence in The Hunger Games, where he is outright evil, he is a morally grey character here.
Lucy Gray Baird is just as important as Snow to the film. Rachel Zegler is phenomenal in the role, expressing the spark of rebellion despite the darkness of the world she exists in. Another mark of difference between the original films and this one, is the musical numbers. Lucy Gray is a performer and so we get to hear Zegler’s dreamy voice throughout, including her beautiful rendition of the already famous Hanging Tree (sung by Jennifer Lawrence in the Mockingjay films).
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is split into three acts and it's hard not to lose focus after the second act when the games end. But arguably the final act is the most interesting. The constructed veneer of the Capitol is swapped for the industrial architecture of District 12. It’s here where we see Coriolanus Snow make his choice between leaving his dreams behind and fully stepping into the villain we know him as.
The latest story in The Hunger Games franchise might be a hard one to swallow, considering where it places us. But as a vessel to explore Snow’s backstory The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is truly a triumph. It might not leave you feeling hopeful, seeing the villain succeed, but nothing is stopping you from watching through all of The Hunger Games films to witness his eventual downfall.