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The Family Secret, Channel 4 review - lives destroyed by historic sexual abuse | reviews, news & interviews

The Family Secret, Channel 4 review - lives destroyed by historic sexual abuse

The Family Secret, Channel 4 review - lives destroyed by historic sexual abuse

Revelations from 25 years ago wreak havoc in Anna Hall's devastating film

Kath, sick of living a lie

“Restorative Justice Practitioner” sounds like a euphemism for a Mad Max-style lone avenger, but in director Anna Hall's devastating film for Channel 4, it was a woman called Kate whose job was to bring together conflicting parties and help find a resolution. Cameras and microphones eavesdropped with pitiless intimacy as Kate brokered a meeting between 30-something Kath and the man who’d raped and abused her when she was seven. The worst of it was that he was her older brother, Robert.

Kath had guarded her secret from the rest of her family ever since, as it mercilessly eroded her sense of self, her confidence and the way she viewed the world. “I can’t go on living this lie any more,” she said. “I need to face him and look him in the eye.”

Which she did, although we only saw Robert in partial views – his back, his eye, his woolly hat, but never enough to fully reveal what he looked like. This had the result of making him seem like a cringing, evasive nonentity. As he admitted his guilt and claimed that he’s learning to become a better person, he sounded as though he was regurgitating memorised chunks from a self-therapy leaflet. You’d have thrown him down the stairs sooner than believe him.

Kath (pictured left as a child) remained quietly determined, never swearing or raising her voice, but systematically spelling out what Robert had done to her and how it would not be forgiven. He used to come to her bedroom two or three times a week and force himself on her. “Robert were a big lad when I were tiny,” she recalled. “It felt like an octopus on top of me… that he were trying to get in wherever he could get, into all my private places and private parts.” She begged him to stop. Robert thought this went on for two and a half years, but Kath said it was from when she was seven until she was 11. “Everything that was safe in the world was not safe any more,” she said, with simple eloquence.

Kath, you felt, was strong enough to get through it, but the collateral damage was cataclysmic. By a bitter irony, her mother, Andrea, was a child protection social worker, and the revelation that she’d utterly failed her own daughter left her in pieces. “It’s your worst nightmare, knowing that your child’s been abused and you weren’t there to help them.”

Andrea's husband Chris (also only partially seen) couldn’t bring himself to condemn his son, and seemed unable to summon the willpower to prevent the family disintegrating. As we reached the end credits the family home was up for sale and Andrea and Chris had separated, and a disgusted Andrea had left Robert to his own devices. Kath’s other brother Graeme, her childhood soulmate, seemed to have aged 30 years during the course of the film, and looked like a ghost of his previous self. It was fascinating but agonising.

It felt like an octopus on top of me… that he were trying to get in wherever he could get

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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