Tuesday 9 May 2017

The Current Cinema - DONT TELL brings back memories of the Governor-General's downfall and more

Authorship is an interesting subject at any time but when you get a movie like Don’t Tell  (Tori Garrett, Australia, 2017) you get some interesting elements to pick over. The film is based on a book by lawyer Stephen Roche and tells of Roche’s involvement in a famous case of covered up child abuse at a Toowoomba Church of England boarding school. Roche is credited, along with long time film industry identity Terry Jackman, as Executive Producers. Four others from the Roche family have minor parts and one gets a credit as the still photographer and for the Press Kit.

Jacqueline McKenzie
The film seems to be entirely independently made, that is it has no credits to any of the various state or federal film funding bodies. Tori Garrett, whose first feature film it is, has much experience in TV drama. Much credit might belong to the casting director Ben Parkinson who, it would appear at least, has convinced a fistful of fine Oz actors (Jacqueline McKenzie, Rachel Griffiths, Susie Porter among them), to be in a drama about a disgraceful political and social occurrence which took a decade or more to be righted. Everyone knows vaguely about it because the story encompassed the moment that brought down the humbug Governor-General and ex-sky pilot Bishop Peter Hollingworth who told a supplicant that he was “too tired” and “in need of a holiday” and would not take up her case.

Jack Thompson (Susie Porter, background)
We’re looking at courtroom drama big time, and there’s much initial re-assurance when, thirty plus years or more after Breaker Morant  and twenty years after Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Jack Thompson rises to his feet to resolve, in a polite but vicious lawyerly manner, an earlier case. Jack’s voice no longer has any rough edges at all, the accent on this occasion being exceedingly cultivated, almost as if elocution lessons have been part of the aging process. Not a rough and tumble type from the Brisbane Bar on show here although licence may have been taken in suggesting a lawyer of his calibre actually lives in Toowoomba.

Aden Young, Susie Porter
Aden Young as Roche is set up as a somewhat frazzled country lawyer, always on the point of missing deadlines. His case is built  on much slog and leg work though it seems almost impossible to believe that he was still trying to drum up assistance from witnesses right up to the very last moment of the trial itself. Not sure if it works nor if it was something put in by the scriptwriters to try and beef up the drama. If the film lacks any grunt in the narrative it would seem to be because the script and/or Garrett’s mise-en-scene don’t actually cause the story to throb, to have you on the edge of the seat worrying about injustice. Maybe it’s because we know from the start that this is eventually going to turn out bad for the bad guys (the Church of England school managers, trustees and lawyers), a wizened collection of threepence up their arse types whom the audience very quickly comes to dislike. We also know that the angry chip on the shoulder victim Lyndal (Sara West) is going to mellow into something likeable. Finally because it sticks mostly relentlessly in Roche's tracks, it leaves the Governor-General alone. A narrative strand integrating much greater moment to  moment details of his downfall would have added much piquancy to the proceedings.

But what can I say. Without adding a single skerrick to the great tradition of Australian cinema it had me reasonably gripped.

Sara West

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