#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 7 December 2021

This Irish film explores what happens when a couple travel for an abortion

We spoke to its director about why he feels it isn’t a political film.

Source: Entertainmentie/YouTube

A NEW IRISH film explores what happens to a couple when they travel to the UK for an abortion – and the impact it has on their romance.

Twice Shy, directed by Tipperary man Tom Ryan, is about a couple called Maggie and Andy, and charts their romance in flashbacks as they head to the UK for Maggie to have an abortion due to an unplanned pregnancy.

It’s a very topical and emotive subject, given that the issue of repealing the 8th amendment to the Constitution has been in the news much of late. New Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been tasked to set a date for a referendum on the issue.

Earlier this week, the latest statistics from the UK showed that Irish women account for seven out of 10 non-resident abortions carried out there. The same day, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Ireland’s law prohibiting and criminalising abortion had violated the human rights of a woman after she was denied an abortion following the diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

And the day before these two stories came the news that a young girl seeking an abortion was held in a psychiatric unit, a case which caused much uproar in certain quarters.

But Ryan says that his film isn’t to be taken as a political piece.

Ardal Bench Shane Murray-Corcoran and Ardal O'Hanlon.

The film-mad Nenagh man – whose first job was as a projectionist at the local cinema – has covered topics like Barack Obama’s inauguration.

He says that for this film, his focus was actually on the romance between the couple, and the impact a major event like an abortion could have on them.

“[Abortion] is always brought up in forms of debate, so I thought it’d be quite an interesting movie to explore it and try and humanise it,” he says. “I wanted to do a movie that dealt with young romance between a young couple. That went hand in hand then with the abortion storyline. Through the abortion I was able to put the two characters to the test, test their relationship.”

Ryan spent one year in the USA, working as a camera intern on movie shoots, before moving to London and working  on commercials. There, he met Fionn Greger, producer of Twice Shy.

His first film Trampoline was written and directed by Ryan, and had a tiny €1000 budget. He describes it as “a bit of a learning curve”, but it wound up doing even better than he anticipated: “To all our surprise it took off and it did quite well in the festivals.
I wasn’t expecting that.”

It was, for example, sold to Amazon. All of this allowed him to the opportunity to make his second feature film, Twice Shy, which is due to be released on 23 June.

‘It’s not an abortion movie’

Ryan says he sees Twice Shy “as a movie that deals with an abortion, but it’s not an abortion movie”. He’s very cautious not to betray what his own feelings are on the issue, saying that it’s not a movie made to try and convince people to think a certain way.

“It’s a romantic drama and the relationship at the centre of the film is put to the test by the abortion, so the question the movie poses isn’t is abortion right or wrong, it’s will this relationship survive,” he explains. “This situation – will it strengthen their relationship or will it break them up? The audience will come to the film and view it however they want to view it and make up their minds on it themselves.”

Grab hotel Andy (Shane Murray-Corcoran) and Maggie (Iseult Casey)

Ryan isn’t the only creator to be tackling the issue of Ireland’s abortion laws. Tara Flynn recently brought her show Not A Funny Word to the Abbey Theatre, a play which explored the same topic as Twice Shy. Writers Claire Hennessy and Paula McGrath both tackle the issues of pregnancy and Ireland’s approach to it in their books, Like Other Girls and A History of Running Away.

Internationally, Ryan’s film is most likely to be mentioned in the same breath as Jenny Slate’s film Obvious Child, one of the last decade’s most overt films about abortion. But the topic is also explored – whether overtly or not – in Dirty Dancing, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Grandma.

In the 2014 Polish film The Tribe, a young girl is seen procuring an illegal ‘backalley’ abortion, in a long and visceral scene.

Ryan describes it as “not my place” to tell his audience what to think, or to tell them his opinions.

“We don’t want the film to come across like that because then it becomes a political statement in a way as opposed to a movie,” he says. “We want this to be entertaining, we want audiences to enjoy the movie first and foremost and then if they leave talking about it and if they see the issue presented in a new light that’d be different. We want to portray the issue in a sensitive and compassionate way. Everyone’s story is different and every experience is different, and everyone’s opinions differ.”

Ryan believes that cinema is the perfect medium with which to tell a story like this, and hopes that Twice Shy will help to “start a conversation”.

Without spoiling the film, both Andy and Maggie do have differing opinions on the abortion also, which means that Ryan is able to explore the many sides to the issue.

“We can only do our best with the stories we can tell, but I think that was on my mind moreso, to do the topic justice,” says Ryan.

“With something like that you want to tell an engaging story so you know you’re not always looking to take stories from the headlines,” he says. “First and foremost this is a romantic drama and I’m drawn to character dramas. Abortion went hand in hand with the romantic story I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell a story of a young couple where we chart their whole relationships from how they met… Are they going to make it through this rough patch or not.”

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

Journey to Cannes

Andy Maggie Van

Despite the recent discussion around abortion laws in Ireland, Ryan says that this film could have been made at any time in Irish history.

“If you wanted to make an abortion film in Ireland you could make it at any time – 60s, 70s Ireland, even five years ago it was different to what it is now. But making it contemporary goes that little extra step towards humanising it for current audiences and keeping it current for people.”

After completing his first draft, he spoke to a range of people about the abortion issue. “I would have kept up to date with the issue and topic regardless of whether was doing a movie about it,” he adds. “I think it’s going to be debated in Ireland for a long time to come the way things are looking.”

The process began over two years ago, with the movie being filmed in just three weeks on a small budget, in Tipperary, Dublin and London. The soundtrack, in keeping with the Irish theme, features homegrown bands like Ash and The Coronas.

Twice Shy was even shown at Cannes, an “incredible” experience which “was a dream come true” for Ryan. That he also won the best director award at the Irish Film Festival Australia has added to the experience.

“For an independent Irish movie which deals with this sort of topic to be screened in Cannes is a testament to the film itself,” says Ryan.

The film doesn’t delve into the specifics of Ireland’s abortion laws, instead letting Maggie and Andy’s story tell itself. “I didn’t want to take time in the film to explain everything,” says Ryan. “It was made for an Irish audience and we got very lucky that it has an appeal overseas as well. I think that’s a testament to the cast, who carry the story.”

But he knows that making a movie where this is a major part of the plot means that some might be turned off it.

“We have to face up to the fact that there will be people who’ll have their minds made up before they see the film,” he says. “But all I can say for that is for people to let the film speak for itself and give it a chance and watch it and make up their minds themselves.”

Twice Shy is released in Irish cinemas on 23 June.

Read: ‘I literally don’t know another female track-and-field athlete who hasn’t had an abortion’>

Read next: