I’ve been as big a critic of Australian film as a supporter mainly due to frustration. We have some of the finest actors, writers and directors in the world, yet our producers and funders consistently let us down. I think if we tried a popular genre, say a courtroom drama, and used some of these actors with a powerful script, we can produce world class films. And Don’t Tell, particularly when compared to a recent example – Denial – is an example.
Don’t Tell is based on the true story of Lyndall Roche, whose accusations against a priest, who looked after girls in a Toowoomba boarding school, led to Peter Hollingsworth resigning as Governor General. It’s heavy material, but important. Don’t forget Spotlight won an Academy Award for it.
The script looks at the effect the court case has on everyone involved, from the solicitor Stephen Roche (Aden Young) who risks his practice to the victim (Sarah West) and her family, as well as the community and the Anglican church. The trial has its twists and turns, but this doesn’t dominate the story the way it does in Denial. It’s about the effect on all those involved.
It has a power-packed cast: Susie Porter (the mother), Jack Thompson (Lyndalls barrister), Rachel Griffiths ( Lyndall’s counsellor), Jacqueline McKenzie (the defendant’s barrister) and Gyton Grantley all turn up, and step up, for this. Some of the best scenes are between West and her father, Tony (Martin Sacks) although big Jack is excellent and shows how it’s done.
Those representing the church do come across as heartless caricatures, but then again, do you recall George Pell’s refusal to fly home and his strident denials? And their conduct over the years? I once had a sliver of pity for Hollingsworth, (well played by Kym Knuckey) but this film has buried that. This story shows how the legal system was needed to break the code of silence around these pedo-protectors who used it to hide them. But it needed strong defendants. Spotlight highlighted the media’s negligence. Denial heralded how clever lawyers were, minus the emotions.
Director Tori Garrett has a good eye and works well with his cameraman. It’s a pity our courtrooms are so drably biege. There are quite a few melodramatic moments and they could have been more reigned in. This sometimes has a TV feel to it.
If emotions are the barometer to judge courtroom dramas, then this had me ready to burn down a church (again). Now all we need is for audiences to support good Australian films, and ask why we fund the rubbish ones. If you don’t ask, then they don’t have to tell.
Con’s Score: 3.5 pulpits
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