‘The Clearing’ True Story, Explained: Is Adrienne Beaufort A Real Person?

Based on J.P. Pomare’s novel In the Clearing, the Hulu original series The Clearing dives into a gripping story inspired by real-life events surrounding an Australian cult known as “The Family.” The show, with its first three episodes premiering on May 24th, 2023, offers a fictionalized portrayal of the cult and its charismatic leader, Adrienne, portrayed by Miranda Otto. Adrienne is a character based on the notorious cult leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne, who initially worked as a yoga teacher before ascending to the role of a self-proclaimed guru within her New Age group. In real life, Anne Hamilton-Byrne founded “The Family” during the 1960s in Australia. Although the group initially presented itself as a spiritual new-age group centered around yoga and meditation, it eventually came to light that they engaged in abusive and manipulative practices. While the Hulu series The Clearing is a work of fiction, it is heavily inspired by the dark and disturbing realities of “The Family.” By fictionalizing the story, the series sheds light on the negative influence of cults and their lasting impact on the lives of those affected by them.

Similar to the depiction in the series, the real-life cult known as “The Family” or the Santiniketan Park Association consisted of children who were illegally adopted by the cult leader, Anne Hamilton-Byrne. Anne claimed these children, who were almost 28 in number, as her own. Under her command, the children were all dressed in identical clothes, with their hair bleached white. Through this facade, she created the impression that they were all biological siblings. Similarly to the series, the real-life cult also had supervisors acting as “aunties” and “uncles” who played the role of caretakers for the children. These assigned caretakers were there to maintain control over the children and ensure painful punishment if any of the kids failed to abide by the rules.

Anne Hamilton-Byrne, known as Adrienne or Maitreya in the series The Clearing, had a complex and intriguing life. In real life as well, Hamilton’s life had always been far from being simple and fulfilling. Born Evelyn Edwards, she grew up in Victoria, where her mother struggled with paranoid schizophrenia. Later, she was sent to a psychiatric facility, where she spent much of her life until her passing.

Anne got married at a very young age which had severe effects on her mental and physical health. After the birth of her first child, recurrent miscarriages left her in a state of constant loss. Tragically, her husband lost his life in a car accident. Yoga became a solace for Anne, offering her a path to inner peace. As a widow, she began teaching yoga to several women, who eventually became her first devoted followers. During this time, Anne started manipulating the minds of these young women, encouraging them to abandon their marriages and join her. It was during this phase that she encountered Dr. Raynor Johnson, a renowned physicist who was exploring experimental psychology and spirituality during his retirement. Anne took advantage of the opportunity, presenting herself as an enlightened being—comparable to figures like Vishnu or Buddha—and claiming to be the reincarnation of Jesus. Dr. Johnson and his wife fell under Anne’s influence and became fervent followers.

In the Hulu series The Clearing, the character Adrienne, representing Anne Hamilton-Byrne, is depicted as cunning, manipulative, and intuitive. The series delves into Adrienne’s backstory, which shares similarities with Anne’s real-life experiences. However, one notable difference is that Adrienne chooses not to remarry, setting her apart from Anne Hamilton-Byrne. While Adrienne exploits and manipulates her followers for financial gain, she manages everything independently, showcasing her ability to control and influence men. In reality, Anne Hamilton-Byrne always found support from her third husband, Bill, and their marriage was transactional rather than emotionally driven.

It is indeed true that Anne Hamilton-Byrne was one of the most deeply malevolent cult leaders in history, and the series The Clearing does not exaggerate the extent of her cruelty towards children within the cult. With the assistance of Ryanor Johnson, she obtained a secluded property and formed “The Family,” attracting influential individuals such as doctors, nurses, and social workers. As the cult expanded, Anne Hamilton-Byrne began bringing children into the fold through illegal adoptions orchestrated by the midwives working under her. These innocent children were subjected to inhumane treatment and torture, including being administered LSD at a very young age and being deprived of sufficient food. Dunking their heads in water was also used as a form of punishment. Under Hamilton-Byrne’s orders, the “aunties” within the cult inflicted these tortures on the helpless children.

Sarah Moore, one of the children, was eventually expelled from the cult and bravely reported the torturous methods she had endured to the police. The children, including Sarah, were under the impression that they were all siblings until the Victoria Police raided the cult’s compound in 1987. Although initially charged with fake adoptions and child abuse, Hamilton-Byrne was ultimately acquitted of all charges.

In her later years, much like Adrienne in the series, Hamilton-Byrne developed dementia and underwent numerous plastic surgeries, giving her an appearance resembling that of an old plastic doll. While the series fictionalized Adrienne’s fake dementia as a plot twist to evade justice, the true nature of Hamilton-Byrne’s neurological health remains a mystery. It is likely that she did develop dementia, given her advanced age and the toll her life had taken on her, but the exact circumstances of her mental decline remain unknown. In the Hulu original series The Clearing, the fictionalized account of Adrienne’s dementia serves as a turning point in the story. This deviation from real-life events provides a sense of justice for those affected, similar to the character Amy, who represents Sarah Moore.

As the series progressed, the local investigators in The Clearing began to unravel the true nature of Adrienne’s dementia. They infiltrated her manipulative and abusive tactics, uncovering the extent of her crimes and the suffering she’d inflicted upon her followers and the children in her cult. Ultimately, the relentless investigation led the detectives to expose Adrienne’s true face in an effort to put an end to her deceptive and cruel actions. Though in real life Hamilton remained untouched till her death, the fictional portrayal attempted to offer the victims a sense of closure and satisfaction.

In real life, Anne Hamilton-Byrne passed away in 2019. After her time as the leader of “The Family,” she lived a secluded life. Her death was the end of a dark chapter in history, but the scars and trauma inflicted on the survivors of the cult and their families continue to resonate. While the series The Clearing provides a fictionalized account of Anne Hamilton-Byrne’s story, it serves as a reminder of the real-life atrocities committed by her and the lasting impact they had on the lives of those involved.


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Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda hails from a medical background, yet her journey is to cross the boundaries of medicine and survive in the cinematic world. The surrealistic beauty of cinema and art has attracted her from a very young age. She loves to write poems, songs, and stories, but her dream is to write films someday. She has also worked as a painter, but nothing attracts her more than cinema. Through her writings, she wants to explore the world of cinema more and more and take her readers on the same ride.

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