"You can't keep a secret. You can't keep anything secret can you, really?"
Based on lawyer Stephen Roche's book of the same name, Don't Tell is tipped to be the most important Australian film of 2017. A compelling courtroom drama, it's the true story of a young woman who broke her silence on the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of a teacher, and persisted through a trying legal battle against both the Anglican church, and the school where the abuse took place.
In 2001, with the help of Roche, the woman—known only by her first name, Lyndal—undertook a civil case against Toowoomba Preparatory School and the Anglican Archdiocese, after being sexually abused as an 11-year-old student by her boarding house master. It's considered a landmark case in the state, one of the catalysts for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
"It raised the profile of the issue, after that we did see a number of policy changes... [and] we saw a significant spike in those survivors coming forward to disclose what had happened to them years ago," says Shine Lawyers' national legal partner Jodie Willey, the lead lawyer on the case.
The film, which will premiere on May 18 around the country, has an impressive Australian cast, including Rachel Griffiths as a psychologist who counsels Lyndal (played by newcomer Sara West), along with Susie Porter and Martin Sacks as Lyndal's parents. Aden Young plays Stephen Roche, with Jack Thompson appearing as Lyndal's barrister, while Jacqueline McKenzie takes on the role of the barrister for the school and church.
"I was amazed that it was based on a true story and that we were able to shoot it," says McKenzie. "It's not just loosely based on or inspired by the events, this is it."
Gyton Grantley will play Kevin Guy, the school's boarding house master who sexually abused Lyndal. Guy committed suicide on the day he was due to face trial for sexual assaults he was alleged to have committed at the school, and in his suicide letter professed his "love" for 20 female students there, along with others at a NSW school where he had previously taught.
As the Royal Commission continues to investigate the response of organisations—such as schools, churches, sports clubs and government, as well as the legal system itself—to allegations and instances of abuse, more and more stories like Lyndal's are surfacing, and the far-reaching devastation that institutional sexual abuse has had in this country is becoming increasingly apparent. Don't Tell sheds light not only on what happened to so many children like Lyndal, but gives a deserved weight to the courage it takes to stand up to these seemingly all-powerful establishments.
"It's a very very courageous and inspiring story," says Young (who plays Roche). "By illuminating the screen with [Lyndal]'s courage, we're getting a real view into how it is that you can change a life."
"This story is an important story," adds Sacks. "This is not just a movie."
Click play on the video above to hear more from the cast, and their first-hand experiences of working on the film.
Brought to you by Don't Tell