Sexual abuse is a subject that requires sensitive handling. Shari Karney (Melissa Gilbert) would say, to hell with that, it's been handled with kid gloves for far too long.

This is one from Odyssey's excellent True Story series. Although made in the conventional biopic style, using incisive flashbacks, director Bill Corcoran does not soften the blow, or paint Shari's character in soft autumnal tones. Her experience is a painful one and she doesn't always manage to hold it together, which, in the circumstances, is understandable.

As a young attorney, working in California, she makes a point of refusing sex abuse cases without facing up to her reason for doing so. That is until she is talked into accepting as a client a teenage girl who suffered an incestuous relationship from the age of one-and-a-half. This brings out suppressed memories from her own childhood, involving a strict, authoritarian mother and a father who abused her.

Shari's background is professional middle-class. She has a sister, whom she loves, and a career that absorbs her. During work on the abuse case, as her own past reveals itself in flashes and nightmares, she seeks help from a therapist (Ellen Burstyn), who encourages confrontation with her parents, which proves mistaken. Her father, in complete denial, is enraged.

Shari's passion for the subject, once she faces it, is fearsome and, at times, counter-productive. She joins forces with another attorney (Kate Nelligan), who has been studying the legal complexities independently, and together they attempt to change the law to include "delayed discovery". At that time, in the late Eighties, abuse cases could not be brought after the victim reached the age of 18. Shari knows from her own experience that knowledge of "the incest aggressor" can lay dormant in a mind, bruised by its memory, for decades.

"If I can save one child by telling my story, maybe that will compensate for losing my family," Shari says.

Her story is a disturbing one and Gilbert holds nothing back. This is a sincere and committed performance. The subject of the film is as important as it is painful. To turn away is to condone denial. "If I can survive being raped by my father, I can survive anything," Shari says. She deserves a hearing.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2001
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Shattered Trust packshot
The true story of young Californian attorney who battles to change the law on sexual abuse in the US.
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Director: Bill Corcoran

Writer: Susan Manus

Starring: Melissa Gilbert, Kate Nelligan, Ellen Burstyn, Kenneth Welsh, Patricia Kalember, Dick Latessa, Shirley Douglas

Year: 1993

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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