Allen v Farrow
- Brian Donaldson
- 15 March 2021
Deeply researched if highly partisan documentary-making revisits a notorious celebrity scandal
In an episode of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David bit the hand that fed him by railing against that network's arch slogan 'It's Not TV: It's HBO'. With Allen v Farrow, their non-fiction wing could now be rebranded as 'It's Not Documentary: It's One-Sided Open And Shut Cases'. Which would have been perfectly fine; there's nothing wrong with partisanship in broadcasting. The pioneering likes of John Pilger and Michael Moore have carved out an admirable canon from their singular point-of-view films. But the title of Allen v Farrow betrays the makers' intention: it's far from being one side pitted against the other with all the even-handedness that this would suggest.
The case in question goes back to 1992 and an accusation by Mia Farrow that her partner Woody Allen had sexually abused their adopted seven-year-old daughter Dylan. In Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick's film, a pattern of inappropriate behaviour by Allen is painstakingly established, and while some of it certainly sounds dubious, other arguments are less persuasive: in following Dylan around a playground, is Allen being 'inappropriate' or is this notoriously neurotic individual playing the classic role of over-protective parent? Either way, it finally led to one single traumatic event that was claimed to have taken place in a tiny attic in their Connecticut holiday home.
Full context has always played a large part in Allen's ongoing defence: the allegation arose shortly after Farrow uncovered the true romantic and sexual nature of his relationship with 21-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, another of her adopted children. This gave Allen an avenue to paint Farrow as a resentful partner who then coached Dylan into making false accusations against him. Separate investigations by a Yale sexual abuse clinic, New York social services, and Connecticut police failed to produce enough evidence to fully prosecute Allen, and while he has continued to make movies, the stain of this allegation has never left him.
For those who believe Allen to be a despicable monster or an innocent man who was punished for falling in love with the wrong person (30 years later, he and Soon-Yi are married and have two adopted children), it's unlikely that much of this film will change anyone's opinion. But then there is the footage of Dylan herself, both as a young child being videotaped repeatedly by her mother (take from that what you will) as she details her father's assault, and now as a grown woman with her own young daughter talking of her painful decision to finally tell her side of the story. Taken on their own merits, Dylan's account which includes Allen constantly 'hunting' her and examples of the 'intense' attention which was also noted by childcare professionals, and you have a fairly damning indictment.
But there are so many clouds of doubt over this case (elsewhere you can read the wildly divergent accounts of other Farrow children, Ronan and Moses) that in truth only two people fully know what happened in that attic in Connecticut. After the gruelling but arguably inconclusive four and a half hours of Allen v Farrow, this might be the moment to lay it all to rest.
Sky Documentaries, Monday 15 March, 9pm; all episodes available now on NOW TV.