The Tale: Sundance London Film Review

The Tale is the most powerful and upsetting portrayal of childhood sexual abuse I’ve ever seen on screen because it is based on writer and director Jennifer Fox’s real, personal experience.

The film centres on the adult Jennifer (Laura Dern) when she uncovers a story she wrote when she was 13, when she went to an intensive riding camp run by Mrs G (Elizabeth Debicki) with the help of running coach Bill (Jason Ritter). After the summer is over, they come up with a plan for Jenny to visit on weekends and she begins to stay at Bill’s and they develop a ‘relationship’. The film jumps between adult and young Jennifer as the adult one investigates that summer and questions her memories, and faces up to what happened to her properly for the first time.

This is heartbreaking and devastating and my heart felt heavy watching what happened in the ’70s and how it was affecting Jenny in the present. For years Jenny didn’t realise the relationship she had with Bill constituted sexual abuse and Dern is phenomenal as an adult woman finally trying to process and come to terms with what happened to her.

I’m glad it was told in this way, rather than a straightforward tale set in the ’70s,  because it helped you understand how Jenny’s mind has dealt with it, how she may have misremembered something and how other people may remember things differently. I also found it more affecting because it was like adult Jenny was revisiting the flashbacks with us. The editing is spot on and really ramps up the emotional impact.

I have always loved Dern as an actress but this is next-level amazing. I wish it had a theatrical release so she could be in the running for awards, her performance is that good. Debicki has a hard role because Jenny’s memory of Mrs G changes a lot, but she handles it well, although it’s hard for us to know who she really was. Jessica Sarah Flaum as young Jenny and Ellen Burstyn as Jenny’s mum in the present day are impressive too.

It is bold, it is brave and Fox deserves major kudos for having the courage to tell her story. The Tale is uncomfortable, hard-hitting and intense and not exactly what you would call enjoyable, but it is a really good, well-made movie and I urge you all to see it. It will stick with you for hours.

On Sky Atlantic on Tuesday 5th June 

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