The 8th

 

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Three female directors unite to present a film about women's freedom of choice.

 
8th, The

 

It is the job of a film critic to assess quality, but there are times when for the general public that aspect is of little importance compared to the subject matter that a movie chooses to tackle. That is surely the case when it comes to this documentary by Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O'Boyle. What counts here is the fact that in The 8th we have a feature-length documentary dealing with the issue of abortion in Ireland, a subject which for decades has been directly linked to the 8th amendment of the Constitution Act of 1983. That amendment protecting the right to life of the unborn child was at that time widely welcomed as confirmation of the outlook of a country that had banned abortion in 1861. Anyone drawn to a treatment of the recent developments challenging that viewpoint will want to see The 8th.

 

The aim behind this film was to record the endeavours undertaken by the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. In particular, it is concerned with the work done by them in the lead-up to the referendum on 25th May 2018 which would see a vote on whether to keep or overturn the amendment. Back in 2002 an earlier referendum seeking the right to terminate pregnancy if the life of the prospective mother was endangered had been lost, but this time the verdict would go the other way by two to one. In September a bill was signed into law authorising terminations of pregnancy. It allowed that during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy as well as in those special cases when the mother was found to be at risk if the birth went ahead.  This is a film that makes its own viewpoint absolutely clear: it is a celebration of that result. The film does incorporate substantial footage of those on the other side, yet that exists not to offer a detailed debate of the issue but to show the strength of the opposition that had to be overcome.

 

The approach taken here is to focus on the figure of the veteran campaigner Ailbhe Smyth - a woman in her seventies who was then head of the Coalition. This is an apt move given her deep sincerity and commitment and she gives the film a firm centre without taking away from the contributions of others seen here. They range from younger colleagues such as Andrea Horan to a staunch defender of the 8th in the form of the radio journalist Wendy Grace. The filmmakers also recognise the need to reference past events that reflect the impact of the 8th amendment including some specific dramas such as the discovery in 2017 of the bones of dead children in County Galway at the site of a former Catholic care home for unmarried mothers and the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, her tragic fate in itself a rebuttal of the notion that abortion doesn't save lives.

 

While The 8th succeeds in doing what it set out to do, I regard it as a good but unexceptional documentary. As shown here, the campaign leading up to the 2018 referendum is presented not without repetition and the historical flashbacks are somewhat arbitrary in their placing. Indeed, I might have found the whole thing more compelling as an hour-long TV feature rather than as a feature-length film. However, as stressed in my opening remarks, those who have been awaiting a film like this will hasten to view it and, regardless of the reservations that I have expressed, I am confident that they will applaud it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Ailbhe Smyth, Eamon Martin, Maria Steen, Andrea Horan, Wendy Grace, Deirdre Duffy, Orla O'Connor, Grainne Griffin, Peter Boylan, Catherine Corless, John McGuirk, Patsy McGarry, Mary Butler.

 

Dir Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O'Boyle, Pro Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, Maeve O'Boyle and Alan Maher, Ph Matt Leigh, Aidan Maguire, Laura MacGann, Esme Pum McNamee and Michael O'Donovan, Ed Jordan Montminy and Maeve O'Boyle, Music Sarah Lynch.

 

Black Tabby Film/Screen Ireland/Cowtown Pictures/Fork Films-Together Films.
95 mins. USA/Ireland. 2020. Rel: 25 May 2021. Available on BFI Player. Cert. 12A.