My usual criticism of any form of entertainment about the subject of child abuse often complains that the subject was so dark that one felt depressed rather than enlightened or inspired. This criticism cannot be levelled at “Spotlight” which was more optimistic than pessimistic. My wife, whom I saw the film with, was not looking forward to it for the same reason. She had the same reaction to it as me.
The Google summary which one can read online says:- “In 2001, editor Marty Baron of The Boston Globe assigns a team of journalists to investigate allegations against John Geoghan, an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. Led by Editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll and Sacha Pfeiffer interview victims and try to unseal sensitive documents. The reporters make it their mission to provide proof of a cover-up of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.”
I remember the story coming out because I was, at the time, and still am, a campaigning child abuse lawyer. I could very much identify with the Mitchell Garabedian character, overworked, too busy to speak to anyone, all consumed by the new and developing subject of child abuse, to which there is no satisfactory legal answer. He plays the lawyer whom the Catholic Church tried to get disbarred, presumably for challenging them in cases of Child Abuse.
There is mention of the 3 year time limit in cases of abuse, and a cap on damages of £20,000. Whilst we have the same problem in this country, we are not limited by the Damages cap on claims against a Charity, most of whom, in any event, are insured.
I was interested in the part of the film where there was a battle to get records “unsealed” from the Court. Some devastating letters which showed that the Church knew about abusive priests, yet moved them round the country, were too sensitive to be released to the public. The newspaper got this overturned in Court, yet found it frustrating to obtain copies.
I was similarly involved in disputes over the hiding of the names of witnesses in a Court of Appeal case called Durham County Council, v. Dunne. In this country, however, the documents in a case are not in the public domain, only the details of the parties, and the words spoken in open Court. If a journalist tried to obtain such documentation, it would have to go before the presiding judge of the area for a decision – a comment perhaps on how the law could change in this country.
It was heartening to witness the microscopic detailed research which the Journalists had to undergo. Our cases are exactly the same. We have to look for records which are many years old in areas which are often hidden from public view. That is what makes the campaigning elements of the cases so much fun.
So what did I think of the film? On a personal level, I was relieved that it was not harrowing and dark, because it would have been like a busman’s holiday. I was much inspired by the same campaigning excitement that fires me up on a daily basis. I sympathised with the overworked and cranky lawyer who is under pressure to produce results against an establishment determined to cover up the truth.
From a media perspective, it said a lot for the quality of the acting, and the production of the film, that made the content so gripping when one considers that this film was about a group of journalists in an office looking for a story, particularly where there was no real nuanced climax or twist at the end. I would thoroughly recommend that you go out and watch it, whether or not you are a lawyer.