The Clearing on Disney+ and Hulu is an uncomfortable watch. It depicts children, all with blonde hair and convinced they are siblings, undergoing torture at the hands of people claiming to be their kin. The series is adapted from JP Pomare’s novel, In the Clearing, which is based on a horrifying true story. 

The Clearing is based on an Australian Cult dubbed The Family, which tortured Australian children for decades

As terrifying as it sounds, The Clearing is based on a true story. One of the darkest tales in Australian history involves a cult dubbed The Family, which forms the show’s basis. 

The Family was started by Anne Hamilton-Bryne, referred to as Adrienne Beaufort in the series, after meeting with renowned physicist Dr. Raynor Johnson, dubbed Dr. Bryce Latham in the series. Anne started the cult after learning she could influence the actions of the women she taught yoga. Supported by Dr. Johnson, Anne reinvented herself, calling herself the female reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Anne’s followers, posing as midwives, brought children into the cult through illegal adoptions. They housed the children in a secluded property near Lake Eildon. Anne convinced the kids that they were siblings, dying their hair blonde and dressing them in matching outfits to give credence to her claim. 

The youths were beaten, starved, and fed benzodiazepines to keep them docile. Dr. Johnson and his minions also prescribed psychedelic drugs to the children. The series accurately details the cruel conditions in the household. The show’s co-director Jeffrey Walker told The Guardian that the showrunners were cautious not to inflict trauma on the child actors. 

Most of the series, especially the first episodes, mirrors the actual narrative. Guy Pearce, who plays Dr. Latham, told The Guardian that he resisted the urge to research the true story:

“I’m always nervous about how much research I do. It can be helpful sometimes, but it can also open up cans of worms that convolute what it is I’m initially picking up from in the script.”

Walker said the series’ goal was to capture the torture the kids in cults experience. “Your past is with you all the time – you carry it with you in the present constantly,” Walker said. 

The Clearing deviates from the true story as the series progresses. For instance, it shows that the victims got a semblance of justice. In real life, the orchestrators of the crime didn’t get to pay for their actions. 

Dr. Johnson died months after authorities raided the mansion. Anne fled to exile and avoided jail time after facing minor fraud charges. She died in 2019, aged 89, having etched her name in history as one of few female cult leaders.