This is a harrowing story. No dialogue for the first 10 minutes and this, combined with hand-held camera work, leads to a deep sense of foreboding from the very start. ‘Ann’ tells the story of a 15 year old girl, Ann Lovett, who keeps her pregnancy a secret from her family. This is 1984 which really isn’t all that long ago but she is one of 8 children in a family that owns the local pub in a small town where the priest and a retired guard hold the authority. At times, it felt like it was set in an earlier time, maybe late 60’s or early 70’s, such was the stigma surrounding a pregnancy outside of marriage.
The film follows Ann over the course of one day from early in the morning when she leaves home, bringing only a page torn out of her biology book and a scissors, to later that day when she gives birth on her own in a grotto beside the local church. This must have been a very hard film to make and to act but credit to all that the focus stays on the story with no hint of sensationalism. The continuing hand-held camera work and dark lighting befits the drama unfolding which can only end sadly. Brave story-telling but heart-breaking to watch.
- DATE: January 31, 1984
- WRITERS: Ciaran Creagh
- DIRECTOR: Ciaran Creagh
- STARRING: Eileen Walsh, Ian Beattie, Zara Devlin
In September 1983 Irish people went to the polls and voted in favour of a referendum embedding a ban on abortion in the Irish constitution. Perhaps not surprising in a country where, at the time, the dominant arbiter of moral standards and values was the Catholic Church.
On 31st January, 1984, Anne Lovett, a 15 year old school girl, from Granard, Co. Longford, died alone, beside a grotto, giving birth to a full term baby boy. Her baby son was still born.
15 yr. old Anne Lovett wakes up in her bedroom, she is nine months pregnant. Her waters break, she hides the wet sheet under her bed. She has concealed her pregnancy from family and friends (by wearing baggy jumpers). She knows by the end of the day she will have given birth. She puts on her school uniform but doesn’t go to school; she spends the day wandering around the village, hiding from adults. She calls on a school friend, Brenda, the only person in whom she has confided about her pregnancy. They share a cigarette together. Brenda doesn’t know that Anne is nine months into her pregnancy. Anne tells her she has plenty of time to sort it out.
At 4p.m. local schoolchildren discover Anne unconscious and covered in blood, at the grotto, her stillborn baby wrapped in her coat beside her. The local priest is alerted, the local GP, and Anne’s father Diarmuid. Anne and her still born baby are transported to her home on Main St. Anne’s mother Patricia, arrives home before she and her baby are transported by ambulance to Mullingar hospital, where she passes away later that evening.
Ciaran Creagh (director and script writer) of the film ‘Ann’ focuses on that single day, 31st. January, 1984, chronicling the last thirteen hours of Ann’s life. With a nod to Italian Social Realism, Creag (director) and David Grennon (cinematographer) create a slice of small town rural Ireland, in 1980’s.
The audience are brought on a journey, witnessing Anne’s interactions with family, friends and neighbours, highlighting her desperation, terror and isolation, disempowered in an adult world of small town hypocrisy, disconnect, complacency and religious bigotry.
The truth of the birthing scene in the grotto pulls no punches. It’s bloody and painful and the young girl’s terror is palpable and fierce. The irony of the statue of the Virgin Mary looming in the background highlights the betrayal of women by the Catholic Church. There is nothing ‘Immaculate’ or pristine about childbirth per se. but the tragedy of a 15-year-old giving birth alone in a grotto borders on horror.
Also true to social realism techniques is the tracking scene in the car, when Ann (Zara Devlin) is laid in the back seat with her father, Diarmuid (Ian Beattie) while being transported from the grotto to the family home. The camera stays almost exclusively on Beattie’s face, capturing in real time the conflicted emotion and anguish of the father. A difficult emotional feat for any actor, however, Beattie delivers an emotionally harrowing realistic performance.
Roger Taylor’s score reinforces the continual sense of impending doom throughout the film, for better or for worse? Nothing good will happen here! However, because the narrative is condensed to that fatal ‘one’ day it is difficult to see how the storyline could have gone even briefly in any other direction.
Some of the scenes are a bit clunky i.e. the scene between Patricia and Diarmuid having their tea at the kitchen table and at the mention of Ann, Patricia jumps up, grabs her scarf and coat and goes out the door leaving her husband to ask: ‘Where are you off to now’? The viewer might also ask the same question. Equally in the scene where Anne is being carried into her home by her father, the GP and a local who helped at the grotto, an extra female character appears out of nowhere with no explanation.
There were some design and costume blips, in particular the scarf continually donned by Patricia, Ann’s mother. The head scarf belonged to the 1950’s and 60’s not the 1980’s.
However, Ann is a significant film and it is important that this story was told in a truthful, respectful and sensitive style/format. The film gives Ann Lovett a much deserved voice and reflects back to all society the tragic dysfunctional horror that can occur when a village rather than ‘rearing’ a child casts a blind eye and indulges in all religion and no Christianity.
This Irish film is written and directed by Ciaran Creagh.
It tells the tragic true story of Ann Lovett, who at the age of 15 gave birth, in a church grotto in her home town of Granard in Co Longford. The pregnancy had been concealed from virtually everyone and resulted in the death of both Ann and her baby boy.
The film is shot in colour, but due to the grim nature of it, somehow gives the impression of being in black and white.
The film appears to be very factual, when compared to reading reports of the actual case.
The casting is excellent, of both the Lovett family, and local characters.
Watching the film is like seeing a serious dramatised documentary on television, rather than a ‘cinema film’. Unlike a thriller, where cinema audiences may not know ‘who done it’, the tragic outcome of Ann’s story is likely to be known to all who see the film.
The film opens with Ann at home in the morning – her waters have broken. She dresses for school, but does not attend. She wanders disconsolately round the streets, looking for a place where she can inevitably give birth. The only person who knows her secret is her friend Mary who is at home looking after younger siblings, and cannot be with Ann.
Ann goes to the grotto, and eventually gives birth alone, in writhing agony and bleeding heavily. Her baby – a boy – is stillborn. Ann has read up enough about childbirth to know to cut the cord with scissors brought from home. She then collapses in a state of advanced shock. She is only just alive.
What follows is most distressing in that, although it is too late to save the baby, with quicker medical intervention, Ann’s life may have been saved. It is 1984, not 1784. Although people didn’t have mobile phones, there were phones and cars – a much better rescue effort could have taken place.
In the film – which does seem to echo the real facts – Ann’s moans are heard by two schoolboys, who find her and think she has been injured in a fall. They rush off together to seek help, going to the local priest. His reactions are slow – he eventually gets to the grotto and finds Ann, and the baby. He administers the last rights to both, rather than seeking medical aid. Ann’s sister Patricia is found who locates her mother who is out at he the time. The mother’s response to hearing Ann has a baby, is to slap Patricia in the face, which is very shocking [to the audience].
Eventually the local doctor comes and finds Ann alive but in an extreme state of shock and virtually unconscious. She is taken home, then to the nearest hospital. In spite of briefly regaining consciousness, she dies.
The film shocks – as did the event itself in 1984 – that such a situation could arise. Everyone who has ever known about Ann Lovett’s case must think ’How did nobody notice?’…..But Ann in the film [and possibly in real life] wore baggy jumpers which were very much in fashion then.
Ann’s Parents had a pub in the town, which according to reports, did not seem to do very well. It is possible they were generally not very aware people.
Two brief shots are seen in the film of a young man who may have been the father of Ann’s baby. He was interviewed in a newspaper article many years later and confessed to having a relationship – which was indeed sexual – but which had ended months before Ann’s death – around the time she was apparently attacked by a third party – the father of the baby? Ann had apparently stayed overnight with the boyfriend on a regular basis – possibly as young as 14 – without her parents seeming to notice. From the film, and newspaper reports of the time, no-one will ever really know the truth of the months leading up to Ann’s death.
Ireland’s repressed attitude to all matters sexual has improved beyond measure in recent years. Back in the middle of the 20th century and before, the situation was grim, with Magdalene laundries. However it is shocking that Ann’s case happened as recently as 1984, when individual attitudes to female sexuality had been awakened, even if legislation still had to take place.
A harrowing event, translated into a harrowing film.
The film Ann written and directed by Ciaran Creagh is a heartbreakingly moving film that everyone should watch. It takes us through the final thirteen hours of fifteen-year-old Ann Lovett who died after giving birth to a still-born, full-term baby in a church grotto. Courageous Ann Lovett, portrayed so well by Zara Devlin, knows she will give birth alone and doesn’t expect or care to live. She still bravely makes preparations for the birth of her child, bringing a scissors to cut the umbilical cord. The film captures the bleakness of this small town in Ireland on a cold January day in 1984, as Ann spends her day avoiding people and in increasing pain from advanced labour and childbirth. When Ann is found weak and barely alive in the church grotto, there seems to be more concern for saving her soul than saving her life. Even though we know how this story ends, watching the film we are still hoping for a Quentin Tarantino Once Upon a Time in Hollywood style ending. Eileen Walsh is convincing as the mother who cannot allow herself to know her daughter’s story. We share the tears and the remorse of the parents who failed this beautiful young girl. The victim-blaming question – ‘why didn’t she ask for help?’ – is asked by Ann’s father (Ian Beattie), but Ciaran Creagh’s film asks different questions. Questions like: why did a pregnant teenager feel she had no option but to give birth alone in a church grotto? Why do we choose not to know? Why do we not intervene to help?
There are some technical issues – the stillborn baby is maybe too much like a doll – but this poignant film evokes a sense of a time and place, and tells a story that is still very relevant.