Film review – Disclosure

Available on DVD and streaming platforms
85 mins, rated MA 15+ (strong sex scenes, course language)

The 1994 Hollywood film Disclosure was about allegations of workplace sexual harassment. This 2020 Australian film has a related theme: how the parents of a nine-year-old boy deal with allegations of sexual assault made by their neighbours’ four-year-old daughter, Natasha, against their son, Ethan.

It’s the first feature film by Swiss born, UK-raised and now Melbourne-based writer/director Michael Bentham. Like its 1994 namesake it includes some steamy scenes; documentary filmmaker Emily Bowman (Matilda Ridgway) and her journalist husband Danny (Mark Leonard Winter) like to film themselves having sex.

The film is set almost entirely at the Bowmans’ bushland property. Local politician Joel Chalmers (Tom Wren) and his wife Bek (Geraldine Hakewill), call in for what at first appears to be a neighbourly chat around the pool while Joel’s security detail, Sgt Steve Kelly (Greg Stone), stands guard at the Bowman’s house.

But it isn’t long before things escalate to threats and even blackmail.

Emily is determined that the Chalmers acknowledge their son’s wrongdoing and seek counselling for him. Joel Chalmers fears for his political career should the allegations become public. His wife, Bek, flatly denies that her son has done anything wrong, even though she was the only adult within earshot when the alleged assault took place. She refuses to accept a compromise agreed by the other three, but It’s not until the last scene that we really discover why she is so adamant.

There are strong performances by the four main actors. Natasha and her grandmother make only brief but important appearances; on the other hand, the Sgt Kelly character says virtually nothing, and the one observation he makes which is pertinent to the plot goes nowhere.

Bentham has said that the the film is based on a real case, and that it was important for him to reflect the emotions of the characters. Long sequences give the film a feel of being written for the stage, and sometimes the dialogue sounds scripted rather than natural.

But beyond its theme of believing allegations by young children, the film raises important issues such as the dangers of pornography, the sometimes cozy relationship between politicians and journalists, the role of child welfare authorities and the age of legal responsibility.

The makers of Disclosure want to help change policy by raising the issue of child-on-child abuse and inadequate institutional responses to the problem. COVID lockdowns have disrupted some of the normal societal safeguards for children; this film is indeed a timely reminder that we need to do more to prevent and deal with abuse.

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