Guest Review of the film Don’t Tell (2017)

196 Dont Tell

Synopsis: The movie about Toowoomba Preparatory School, the Anglican Church and child sex abuse of an 11-year-old girl. Based on true events and the 2001 legal case that changed how Australia handles child abuse claims. This is the story of a survivor, Lyndal, and the last trial by jury of its kind. The catalyst behind the revolutionary Blue Card Childcare System and the role played in bringing about the ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse still in the news today. (Source – https://www.facebook.com/DontTellMovie/)

I don’t usually include a synopsis on these posts, but I wanted to convey exactly what this film is about. I was powerfully moved by seeing it. I went alone, and am so glad I did. It allowed me to immerse myself totally in the story that was playing out on the screen. Afterwards, I didn’t want to speak to anyone for a few hours.

Don’t Tell is a film, not a documentary, yet it presented to me as a faithful retelling of the actual case, without over-dramatising. The events depicted are harrowing enough without the need for that. The film is based on the book of the same name, written by the lawyer who handled the case, Stephen Roche.

It’s been some months since I saw Don’t Tell and it is only time constraints that stopped me posting the guest review at the time. As the credits rolled and the lights came up I sat there still trying to absorb it all. Another filmgoer, part of a group, made eye contact as they were leaving, and I could tell that he was wondering if I was also a victim. He must have been reading my body language. He gave me a sympathetic nod. Thankfully, I am not, but that is an illustration of how much this film touched me.

Once again, I turned to Richard Alaba of CineMuseFilms, to share his thoughtful review.

DON’T TELL (2017) – Guest Review

Richard Alaba, CineMuseFilms,

Member of the Australian Film Critics Association

The courtroom drama Don’t Tell (2017) is both a quintessentially Australian film and a story of universal relevance. The landmark case depicted in this film snowballed into the world’s biggest commission of inquiry into child sexual abuse which is due to report later this year. Its findings will reverberate around the globe.

The film tells the story of abuse survivor Lyndal (Sara West) who was an eleven-year-old victim of a paedophile priest at a prestigious Anglican boarding school. Now a young woman, she has endured years of substance abuse, self-harm, and loss of self-respect as a victim not believed. She is also volatile, brash and contemptuous of all authority. A struggling local lawyer Stephen Roche (Aden Young) reluctantly agrees to take her case against the massive financial and political muscle of the Anglican Church, assisted by barrister Bob Myers (Jack Thompson). The Church offers her ‘silence money’ and Lyndal is urged to accept but she only wants justice. When the facts of the abuse are uncontested in court, the crux of the legal and moral drama shifts to the spectacle of a major religious body callously manoeuvring to protect its institutional reputation and winning at all costs. Lawyers for the school admitted that the abuse occurred but claimed it could do nothing because it was unaware. Forensic legal research uncovered school governance documents that made it clear the school did know but chose not to act. This was to be the tip of an iceberg that had unimaginable dimensions.

In the wrong director’s hands, this film could easily have descended into victim melodrama or a dry ‘David and Goliath’ legal battle. Instead it is a finely balanced deep scar-tissue examination of the emotional impact of child sexual abuse, portrayed against the background of a well-directed reality courtroom drama. The filming captures the iconic Australian country town feel juxtaposed against the moral brittleness of a legal system that favours perpetrators of abuse and disempowers victims. The acting is excellent across the entire cast. Jack Thompson is superb as the imperious barrister while Sara West’s performance as the damaged Lyndal is outstanding. It is a complex role full of anger that could easily have alienated audiences but Sara’s ability to depict pain and vulnerability easily wins empathy.

The enormity of this story cannot be overstated nor is it of historical interest only. It is entirely because of the bravery of victims like Lyndal that governments around the world can no longer claim they are unaware of the risks to children in care. Even those nations that have not yet taken steps to protect the young will know of the impact of these crimes. This film should be seen around the world, not as entertainment but for insight into the horror suffered by abuse victims and the moral abhorrence of institutional denialism.

Director:  Toni Garrett

Stars:  Sara West, Aden Young, Jack Thompson

18 thoughts on “Guest Review of the film Don’t Tell (2017)

  1. Such a painful and heartbreaking subject. I had not heard of this movie. I don’t think I will go see it, I’m not much of a movie buff and this just sounds too painful. Thanks for sharing

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    • If you don’t go to the movies often you should save yourself for the uplifting ones. This does cover some heartbreaking themes. Having said that though, it is basically a courtroom drama, because it is explores the church reaction to the case that Lyndal finally brought to light.

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  2. I think I have led a charmed life. I was a student in a boarding school when I was fifteen and I taught for ten years in a Catholic Boys School. However I never saw or was aware of anything untoward in either of those places. I did see some nasty religious bullying in one school but never sexual. I hope it was because I was blind to it.

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  3. The Catholic Church comes off badly in this film, of course. When I now hear the church declare that the confessional is more sacrosanct than the protection of children I dont understand why lawmakers do not take them on. As an aside, there is an interesting although fleeting appearance of Archbishop PeterHollingsworth who was chairman of Una’s school, who then went on to become Australias Governor General before being forced to resign over allegations that he condoned coverups.

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    • Anglican Church in the case of this film I believe. And I remember the scene where the archbishop visits. I think that’s the one you are referring to. As for the current business of the Catholic confessional I too am trying to puzzle it out. I get that confession is sacrosanct, and if you compel priests to break that code it is then open to abuse. But surely there is room in legislation to make that specific to only one situation – child abuse? But I guess the church is alarmed that one exemption will lead to more. Also, how many people really confess this crime to a priest? Perhaps it is more to do with speaking up when things don’t seem right; and taking reports seriously.

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  4. I do wish we could find somebody else besides Jack Thompson, They should have left him on that planet that was the home to Luke Skywalker, where he was obliterated.
    They could have asked me I’d have done it for half the price!

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  5. Really cannot imagine how this kind of devastating abuse would change one’s life or alter the way you would look at life forever, not to mention the process of recanting it for the rest of the world. Although we are all horrified Child abuse continues every day somewhere in the world.

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    • Terrifying isn’t it. And so much is coming to light now. The film begins with a scene where we get to see just how screwed up she became as a young woman. The marvellous thing is that when she decided to take action, she refused to be bought off. Then the church takes the extraordinary defence of admitting the abuse took place, but saying they were not to know, unless she (as an eleven year old) spoke up.

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