Review: Chosen (2008, Brian Woods, UK)

Chosen tells the story of the three boys at an English public school in the 1960s and their life beyond that time.

Director Brian Woods structured the film in three acts describing the three intereviewees’ arrival at the school, followed by their targeting, grooming and abuse. Finally the varied emotional, legal and practical aftermath for the interviewees, as well as the relationships with parents which naturally changed, are covered by the latter half and conclusion.

The film uses computer/camera techniques to separate elements of old photos, zooming in on one area to make them seem like a pop-up book – focusing on the three narrating survivors as children. The best documentaries let their subjects talk without a master voiceover to guide them and in the main, Chosen adopts this style with only a few guiding questions from the film-maker breaking the narration.

It’s heart rending and sad to hear one survivor, Tom (who is featured on the external videos online – see below), express the view that he felt complicit in the abuse when an 1960s British private school would have been one step removed from the average prison – nowhere to go, no-one to tell and no willingness to tell the truth to the parents unless the relationship hadn’t been damaged by being sent away. I found myself having to skip back one or two chapter steps to fully understand one other member of staff who overheard one incident of abuse (though didn’t see it), but back then, blamed the victim verbally even if in turn, she raised the alarm.

Another interviewee stated the view that he made the decision to “go ahead” and be abused as if there was no coercion, no grooming, and no pressure, but he recognizes later that that’s literal survivor guilt talking. When watching this documentary a second time I was grateful for the ad breaks to recover. Seeing the survivors confront their own fear was another reason for the film’s power. The saddest moment is when one section describing an abusive act had to be dubbed, since the visual narration couldn’t be delivered by the survivor being filmed at the time due to his emotional state. He did recount how reality had been warped by his abuser.

Such guilt comes across as ongoing with one survivor continuing to berate himself, in other words, not helped by the English Private School system which has a similar lack of accountability in the present day, even if this one individual school has cleaned up its act.

As Chosen moves from Act 1 to Act 2, the alarm being raised might be the end of the abuse and things move to the initial aftermath stage, but in the 60s of course, there was nothing like the therapeutic network which has been build since the 90s. As one survivor remarked, he was keeping busy to stay ahead of his emotions, and there were various other outcomes which follow for the other two, including one where the abuse was properly documented and the only evidence which would help in the court case.

The final act is about the court case and whilst I won’t spoil the result, it’s included in the external videos on Channel 4’s documentary site. Suffice to say it’s depressingly familiar both legally and emotionally looking at the future development of then three narrators from leaving the school and through the rest of their lives to their 50s now. On the first viewing of Chosen, it’s mesmerizing but I’m glad I was watching my other copy with ad breaks inserted – I daresay that if you’re a survivor you need them. If you’re a survivor in therapy it can also be a yardstick by which you measure your own healing process, which means the film needs more than one viewing before you allow yourself to feel unjustly secure.

For British viewers Chosen will receive a terrestrial showing on 15th December at 10pm on Channel 4 and anyone, whether a survivor or parent with a child at school, needs to see it. If it gets divided into Youtube-styled 10 minute chunks, hopefully it will be allowed to stay on the web.

Website links: (where an extended extract can be viewed)


(if Chosen is no longer at the top, click the headings in the left hand margin “Documentaries Archive”, “True Stories”, and Chosen will be in that list.

Halfway down that page you can click and view 4 short clips featuring Tom from the film who expanded on the making-of and gave a short summary of his work.

Also another completely independent view of the film Chosen can be found at this other blog link:

– Comicbookguy

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