The battle for legalised abortion in Ireland was one of the most strenuous, but important, civil rights battles in British history. The 8th, a new documentary from Together Films out May 25th, charts the fight from the side of the legalise movement, including Ailbhe Smith and Andrea Horan.
But far from just an overview of their campaign, The 8th is a staggeringly detailed dissection of the battle, with unprecedented access to meetings, protests and campaigns that comprised the pro-choice movement. Directors Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O’Boyle really unpick all elements of the debate, with some really emotive testimonies of Irish women who travelled to the UK for a legal abortion procedure. This is but one example of the pain and fear that women felt without legal access to terminations, trapped in an oppressive patriarchal system that the film pulls no punches in criticising.
It’s this emotion that makes The 8th far more than your average documentary on social justice. The personalities of both Smith and Horan shines through in the direction, and in a campaign so far-reaching and impactful, it’s the little things that hold so much weight, from their personal happiness as it progresses, to the gleeful outpouring of emotion of women at the polling station, aware of how significant the vote would be. These genuine reactions, the searing reality of what pro-choice means to so many people, is the beating heart of The 8th, the affective anchor that constantly reminds you why the work of these women is so groundbreaking.
And when it does happen, and the vote goes through, the swelling of glee and bursts of relief say it all. This window into a fight that really shouldn’t need to have happened — for safety and human rights that our society should’ve sorted decades ago — is captured through long takes and a sharp focus on the celebrations of May 25th, 2018. None of the heckling these women had received before, none of the stage invaders or misogynistic abuse, stopped them from fighting for what was truly important, and The 8th is the perfect reflection of this. It’s a searingly important documentary that proves just how far we still have to go to carve an equal society – but its message is ultimately one of progress, victory and justice. No understanding of Irish politics and society is needed beforehand, and the directors guide you so well through complex but utterly crucial discussions. Not many documentaries handle feminism as well as this, and for that, it’s impossible to recommend The 8th enough.