The Disney+ (Hulu in the US) series ‘The Clearing’ begins with the following message, “While certain story elements were inspired by actual events, this series is a work of fiction. The characters, names, places, and events have been fictionalised for dramatic purposes and no identification with actual persons (living or dead), places, or events, should be inferred.” However, the series is based on JP Pomare’s 2019 novel ‘In the Clearing,’ which is inspired by the real-life cult, the Family, a doomsday cult that adhered to a philosophy perhaps best described as a hodgepodge of Christianity, Hinduism, and other Eastern and Western religions.
‘The Clearing’ depicts Miranda Otto as Adrienne Beaufort / Maitreya, the charismatic and dreaded leader of the cult called the Kindred. After one of the adult members of the cult (who are called aunties) kidnaps a young girl named Sara, Maitreya is forced to return to Blackmarsh, a property in rural Victoria, to bring the situation under control. If you are wondering whether Adrienne Beaufort or Maitreya is based on Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the leader of the Family, we got you covered.
Is The Clearing’s Adrienne Beaufort (Maitreya) Based on Anne Hamilton-Byrne?
As the message mentioned above denotes, ‘The Clearing’ is ultimately a work of fiction, but in the process of developing the characters, it draws from the members of the Family. The narrative of the series is split into two timelines. In the past, the aforementioned adult member of the Kindred kidnaps Sara with the help of a young girl named Amy. When Maitreya learns about the abduction, it’s too late to return Sara to her family. The aunties have bleached Sara’s hair, a telltale sign of the members of the Kindred, which is bound to draw the authorities to the doorsteps of the cult. Moreover, the girl has figured out exactly where she is. This leaves Kindred with no choice but to try to assimilate her into the cult through brainwashing, threats, and punishments, but they don’t work either.
In the present day, Amy, who now goes by the name Freya, is still traumatized by her past. We learn that although the cult has fallen apart, Amy still cares for Arienne, who apparently has dementia. She reunited with her biological mother, Christine, at some point, but that relationship has become estranged since then.
While developing Adrienne’s character, series creators Matt Cameron and Elise McCredie seem to have followed Pomare’s footsteps and drew from the life of Anne Hamilton-Byrne. Adrienne’s cult is also a messy assortment of Eastern and Western ideas. The hair was also bleached on the heads of the children of the Family to make it seem that they were biological children. Like Anne had Raynor Johnson, an English-born Australian parapsychologist, physicist, and author, at her side, Adrienne has Dr. Bryce Latham (Guy Pearce).
Like Anne, Adrienne sees the children as her own and insists they call her mother or mom. Both women control their young captives with the help of a group of adult women known as the aunties. The children in ‘The Clearing,’ like their real-life counterparts, are regularly punished for little to no reason in the name of discipline. They are also given prescription drugs and LSD to moderate behavior.
The Family was a cult of modest size. At one point, it had 500 members and 28 children. However, many of these members were in influential positions in the government and beyond, which helped the cult in many ways. Similarly, Adrienne has a modest following. One member is Colin, a detective, who begins to keep an eye on the developing investigation of Sara’s disappearance. Additionally, in later years, Anne was diagnosed with dementia like Adrienne. She died on June 13, 2019, at age 97.
Reflecting on the concept of the series Otto said in an interview with MovieWeb, “I’ve always been really fascinated by cults. My auntie was actually in the Rajneesh when I was a kid, and I’ve read a number of books about that experience, and I’ve seen a lot of documentaries on cults […] So, I sort of came to it from that angle, trying to create this character, but there was a lot on the page.”
Read More: What Happened to Sarah Hamilton-Byrne? How Did She Die?