‘Allen v. Farrow’ review: long-running sexual abuse scandal reinvestigated

While no extra evidence is unearthed, HBO's new docuseries feels fresh enough to merit its existence

this blistering documentary series re-examines a Hollywood scandal that was glossed over – if not quite forgotten – for more than two decades. In August 1992, revered film director Woody Allen was accused of sexual abuse by Dylan Farrow, his seven-year-old adopted daughter. Eight months earlier, his long-term relationship with Dylan’s adoptive mother, actress Mia Farrow, had imploded when she discovered nude photos of Soon-Yi Previn, her 21-year-old adopted daughter with ex-husband composer André Previn, at his Manhattan apartment. Dylan’s accusation of molestation was investigated in Connecticut, where it allegedly occurred, and in New York, but Allen was never charged and maintains his innocence to this day. He has always claimed that Mia “coached” Dylan to say he abused her as a twisted way of exacting revenge for his affair with Soon-Yi Previn.

Directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, who previously made a powerful documentary film about campus rape, 2015’s The Hunting Ground, Allen v. Farrow is thorough, carefully crafted and sometimes incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Dick and Ziering tell Dylan and Mia’s story over four hour-long episodes, which means they don’t jump straight to the alleged molestation that is said to have occurred in the attic of Mia’s Connecticut home in August 1992. First we hear their account of how Allen’s behaviour towards his infant daughter became increasingly inappropriate and almost obsessive. “I was always in his clutches. He was always hunting me,” Dylan says at one point. Several family friends corroborate their recollections that Allen was a little too consumed with Dylan and at times cruel to Mia, whom he dated for 12 years but never moved in with. New York neighbour Carly Simon says she saw the director “little by little, eroding [Mia’s] self-esteem”.

Allen v. Farrow
‘Allen v. Farrow’ airs tonight (March 15) on Sky Documentaries. CREDIT: Sky

Still, the series definitely hinges on extensive interviews with Dylan, now a 35-year-old mother, wife and young adult author. It’s devastating to hear not just her recollection of what allegedly happened in the attic in August 1992, but also the long-term impact it had on her mental health. Although the accusation was covered feverishly in the media at the time, family members say it was never really mentioned at home. Her brother Ronan Farrow, who went on to investigate abuse allegations made against Harvey Weinstein for The New York Times, admits that he only asked Dylan what really happened after their father was given an outstanding contribution prize at the 2014 Golden Globe Awards.

By giving Dylan room to share her story fully, with plenty of relevant peripheral details, Allen v. Farrow offers a compelling and convincing version of what allegedly happened in August 1992. But, as critics have pointed out, it’s also a one-sided version which features no fresh testimony from Allen or Soon-Yi Previn, now his wife of 23 years. They declined to take part in the series, though Allen’s voice is heard in choice excerpts from the audiobook of his 2020 memoir, Apropos of Nothing. Allen condemned the series unequivocally when it premiered on HBO in the States last month, saying: “These documentarians had no interest in the truth. Instead, they spent years surreptitiously collaborating with the Farrows and their enablers to put together a hatchet job riddled with falsehoods.”

As the series notes in its final episode, his once-lofty reputation has already been decimated as the #MeToo movement compels Hollywood to re-engage with Dylan’s accusation. A-list stars Kate Winslet, Timothée Chalamet and Selena Gomez have all expressed regret over working with Allen on two of his recent films, 2017’s Wonder Wheel and 2019’s A Rainy Day in New York. Following Allen v. Farrow, it seems unlikely that he will ever command such sway in Hollywood again.

‘Allen v. Farrow’ is on HBO and Foxtel.

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