Review: Don’t Tell at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival

28 February 2018

Don’t Tell: An immense film to add to the Australian film canon

Don’t Tell is director Tori Garret’s first feature film and documents the landmark legal case which prompted the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. With a standout local cast, the film captures the institutional failings of the Anglican church and Toowoomba Preparatory School by focusing on the horrific experiences and healing journey of 22-year-old Lyndal (Sara West). Groomed and abused by her housemaster, Kevin Guy (Gyton Grantley), when she was 12 years old, Lyndal’s life has been far from the one her country parent’s envisioned for their child.

Aden Young portrays the hardworking lawyer Stephen Roche, who agrees to take on Lyndal’s case despite the odds stacked against them. There is no physical evidence, the perpetrator committed suicide, the alleged abuse occurred over a decade ago and Lyndal is understandably angry and emotionally unpredictable. Joining forces with the wily barrister Bob Myers (depicted by the formidable Jack Thompson) and psychologist Joy Connolly (Rachel Griffiths), they prepare to fight for the compensation Lyndal deserves for her lost childhood and damaged adulthood. Performances by Robert Taylor as Mr Brewster (the headmaster), and Martin Sacks and Susie Porter as Lyndal’s parents stamp the film with profound familiarity for Australian audiences, however it is Sarah West’s portrayal of Lyndal which undeniably carries the film. Her portrayal of Lyndal is volatile and real, and she balances the vulnerability and defiance of her character with finesse and skill.

This film is immense. Garret has employed the use of silence to allow the severity of the subject matter and its long reaching effects sit heavily with the audience. Extreme close up shots of Lyndal, Stephen and Bob in moments of high tension are juxtaposed against wide sweeping shots of rural Australia. There is no rush to the courthouse like many films of this genre, giving the audience ample time to fully come to terms with the enormity of the situation at hand—this did not occur in some other country with a different church and legal system—this abuse is irrefutably Australian and must be acknowledged. Flashbacks depicting Kevin Guy grooming Lyndal and the other young girls in his care are employed with significant tact, and Grantley’s performance of the paedophilic housemaster is uncomfortable and haunting.

Australia needs more films like Don’t Tell in this era of #metoo. Aesthetically beautiful, with a message of hope and defiance, it is a film which should be on the top of everyone’s ‘to-watch’ list.

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