Directors: Jeffrey Walker, Gracie Otto
Writers: Elise McCredie, Matt Cameron, Osamah Sami, J.P. Pomare (based on the novel by)
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Miranda Otto, Guy Pearce, Hazem Shammas, Erroll Shand, Kate Mulvany, Anna Phillips, Julia Savage, Lily La Torre, Flynn Wandin
‘The Season of Unfoldment’ air date: 24/05/23
‘Kindred’ air date: 31/05/23
The Clearing will release new episodes weekly on Disney+.
Choosing to make their first locally produced Australian series, Disney has chosen a book based upon the true story of the Melbourne cult known as ‘The Family.’ It’s certainly a choice for the House of the Mouse and not what I would have expected. However, based on the first two episodes I had early access to watch, this is the high-calibre crime drama that viewers of rival streaming company Netflix love to watch and is sure to be of interest to those in Australia and international audiences.
With a dual-time line, the series introduces us to Freya (Teresa Palmer) in the present day, who is a single mother raising her son somewhere in Victoria. Alone with her son, Billy, the two are enjoying a day swimming, but a white van seen driving near her home sets Freya off into an anxiety-driven meltdown. You can tell that something about the van immediately reminded her of something from her past.
Flashback to Freya as a kid, and here we see her as the blonde ‘Amy’ (Julia Savage), who takes part in a child kidnapping as part of a cult herself. Though she does not know what her actions have done, she thinks she is helping this child.
The Clearing is a slow build to any of its more significant plot moments in the first two episodes, but none is more drawn out than the eventual reveal of Adrienne Beaufort (Miranda Otto). The ‘Mother’ of all of these adopted and now stolen children is a very modern, beautiful and sophisticated woman on the surface. But as the children line up to greet her, and the caretakers of the children frolic to make sure her visit is nothing but that of perfection, it’s evident that Beaufort has some power over everyone staying at this secluded home in the bush.
The Clearing is based upon the 2020 novel In The Clearing by J.P Pomare, which took real-life events of ‘The Family,’ led by Anne Hamilton-Byrne and fictionalised them. But the core elements of a religious cult, children abuse, and all children having their hair bleached blonde are prominent reminders of the truth behind the fiction. All of this also carries forth to The Clearing, with every frame of this thriller bubbling with the sensation of evil forces at work. This isn’t a nice story, and the show has no interest in adding any levity.
Over the two episodes, I watched the burning question as Freya and Amy’s stories go back and forth about whether a child has suffered as manage psychological damage as Amy could ever recover. With six episodes left, my early answer would be no, but I shall find out as the series continues.
With a sensational Australian cast of co-stars, including Guy Pearce, Claudia Karvan, Kate Mulvany, Xavier Samuel, and Harry Greenwood, there are plenty of familiar faces to love or, often in this series, hate.
I had my doubts about this series as the first Australian drama series to come out of Disney+, but if the first two episodes are proof for the rest of the series, it’s going to be a tense thriller that heads into dark places and asks deep thought-provoking questions of the viewers.