Often a show comes along that piques my interest. In this instance, it is The Clearing, an Australian eight-part thriller on Disney+.
Inspired by a real-life cult leader with a female leader, the show is created by Elise McCredie, Osamah Sami and Matt Cameron and is directed by Jeffrey Walker and Gracie Otto.
Based on the book In the Clearing by J. P. Pomare, this is a fictionalised account of the New Age group ‘The Family' and their leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne.
It stars Miranda Otto, Teresa Palmer and Guy Pearce. But what is it all about and is it worth watching?
What Is The Clearing About?
The first thing you should know about The Clearing is that the story is told across a number of timelines, which bounce around at will. So if you're confused as to what exactly is going on at any one time, you're not alone.
Suffice it to say that Adrienne Beaufort (Miranda Otto, Wellmania) is a cult leader who rose to prominence by promising a better way to raise children as a community. But having endured a life of abuse and devoid of love, Freya Heywood escapes.
With the alarm bells ringing and a young girl missing, the local police seize the compound but fail to catch cult leader Adrienne.
Fast forward to today and Freya (Teresa Palmer), having already escaped, is now back tending to Adrienne as she suffers from dementia. In the time we have jumped forward, Freya has had a child, Billy, and lives a rather reclusive life in the woods.
Another little girl has gone missing and Freya begins to suspect that Adrienne, along with long-time supporter Dr. Bryce Latham (Guy Pearce), has restarted ‘The Kindred' and that her brother Anton (Harry Greenwood) is involved.
But can she prove it? Or will the years of trauma she suffered at the hands of the cult finally catch up and be her undoing?
The Clearing Official Trailer
Is The Clearing Worth Watching?
There's a lot to like about The Clearing, namely the cast, especially Miranda Otto's unsettling performance as Adrienne. Teresa Palmer is equally as impressive but to be fair, that could be said of pretty much in the show. So that box is ticked.
The problem is the cohesion of the entire story. We start off the first episode in the modern day with a missing child and somehow, despite the occasional reference, we never really get to the bottom of that.
Instead, we bounce back and forth over more than 25 years as the story of the cult reverberates through time. Freya, for her part, is an unreliable narrator. Despite seeing the story through her eyes, half the time even she doesn't know which way is up.
So now you have a story that may or may not be true, incidents that may or may not happened the way she remembers, psychiatric evaluations, manipulations and lies, and all thrown around in a timeline that pings back and forth at a dizzying pace.
It's almost impossible to keep track of the actual story. And you could be forgiven for almost giving up on it as the narrative really fails to gain any sort of traction.
However, somewhere around episode five, Adrienne's origin story, everything starts to come together. From there, the pieces of the puzzle find their place and what previously didn't make sense is now given an explanation.
So while we do get to the bottom of The Clearing, it's done so in such a convoluted way that it makes watching it an unnecessarily difficult experience.
Is The Clearing Based On A True Story?
Yes and no. The Clearing is inspired by the Australian cult known as The Family, a new age group formed in the mid-1960s by Anne Hamilton-Byrne.
The group taught a mixture of Western and Eastern religious doctrines and became the centre of controversy when its compound was raided by police in August 1987 amid allegations of child abuse.
The children were discovered to have been illegally adopted and were removed from the premises. And yes, they were all made to dress the same with blonde hair and were subjected to the same cruelty as outlined in the show.
However, the 2019 novel In the Clearing by J. P. Pomare is a fictionalised account of the cult and a lot of it was created for dramatic effect. As that is the source material for the show, that too has a lot of fictional elements that did not happen in real life.
Cast of The Clearing TV Series
Teresa Palmer as Freya Heywood, a young woman who escaped the cult as a child but is now drawn back into that world.
Miranda Otto as Adrienne Beaufort, the leader of a cult accused of kidnapping children and raising them with suffocating rules that ruin their lives.
Guy Pearce (Mare of Easttown) as Dr. Bryce Latham, a professor who is manipulated into believing Beaufort is actually a guru.
Julia Savage as Amy Beaufort, a young girl trapped in the cult
Hazem Shammas as Yusuf Joe Saad, a police detective who has been trying to convict Adrienne for decades.
Kate Mulvany as Tamsin Latham, Bryce's wife who is lured into the cult
Xavier Samuel as Colin Garrison
Anna Lise Phillips as Hannah Wilczek
Erroll Shand as Henrik Wilczek
Mark Coles Smith as Wayne Dhurrkay, the father of Freya's children
Harry Greenwood as Anton Beaufort, Freya's brother
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