Don’t Tell Film Review
Tori Garrett’s Don’t Tell is based on the true story of a young woman, Lyndal (Sara West), who was sexually abused by a teacher while boarding at a prestigious private school in Toowoomba during the early 1990s. It focuses on Lyndal’s return to her hometown eleven years later, entering into a legal battle against those who covered up her assault in a landmark case that instigated nation-wide reform of investigations into child sex abuse. Many also point to Lyndal’s case as one that laid the foundations for the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse that began in 2013.
The film’s story is so important because it is by no means the only one of its kind. In 2003, two years after the verdict of Lyndal’s case, then-Governor-General Peter Hollingworth resigned from his role after being plagued by sexual abuse allegations, including the cover up of Lyndal’s own trauma while he served as the Archbishop of Brisbane. Several child abuse scandals appeared throughout the Toowoomba area over the next decade, and continue to be revealed today.
In February of this year, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that nearly 2,000 authority figures within the Australian Catholic Church were identified as alleged perpetrators of child sex abuse between January 1980 and February 2015 – that is, of course, not accounting for all those that went unreported.
Indeed, sexual abuse against children, and its cover up by authorities in religious institutions, is an insidious practice worldwide and is only now being slowly dragged out of the shadows and into the public eye.
As a film, Don’t Tell’s greatest strength is its ability to capture the institutional corruption that allows for this kind of abuse. Many of the film’s scenes capture conversations behind closed doors, and Lyndal is consistently left out while those in power work together to undermine her story. Just like in so many child abuse cases, the victim is silenced, even without her knowledge.
Moreover, it has not shied away from the harrowing long term effects of sexual abuse. Scared and unsupported, Lyndal’s life spirals downwards following her assault – she, like so many victims, experiences intense psychological trauma, substance abuse, and develops a distrust of those around her. Some of the film’s most poignant scenes are those in which Lyndal finds herself standing alone in the unspeakably vast landscape of rural Australia. While also visually stunning, these images seem representative of the loneliness that plagues Lyndal as she closes herself off from a dangerous world.
The film boasts a truly stellar cast. West, a rising Australian star, portrays the lead role with great conviction, representing a very real character through a nuanced and emotional performance that invites deep empathy from the audience. It is West’s poignant portrayal of Lyndal that makes the film’s final scenes so cathartic – by the end, our sense of justice is intrinsically tied to hers.
Jack Thompson also plays to his strengths as Lyndal’s surly, somewhat jaded barrister, Bob Myers, with his commanding presence. He contrasts directly with Lyndal’s more idealistic lawyer, Stephen Roche – the real life author/screenwriter of Don’t Tell – played by Aden Young with sincerity and warmth. However, the minor sub-plot of Roche’s family life does slow down the film somewhat, and these scenes seem a little unconnected to the wider story given little time to be properly fleshed out. Nevertheless, Roche’s unfailing commitment to Lyndal’s case is touching, and Young’s earnest performance helps to assure us that Lyndal has a loyal ally.
Rachel Griffiths also makes brief appearances throughout the film as Lyndal’s psychologist and friend. While her character is minor, as always, she steals the spotlight with her strong onscreen presence.
Ultimately, while the film certainly deals with themes of corruption and crime, at its heart Don’t Tell is a story about justice, and one woman’s courage to speak out against the abuse of institutional power. A small step forward in building recognition for the countless victims of sexual abuse that are yet to find such justice, Don’t Tell is a powerful and moving film that reminds us why it is so very important to keep fighting.
Don’t Tell is in cinemas from May 18.