Sarah Griffin examines how Tom Ryan’s feature Twice Shy explores and humanises abortion.
A thoroughly Irish movie, about a thoroughly Irish subject, Twice Shy has – despite not getting general release – been gaining considerable traction. The second feature from writer/director Tom Ryan, working closely with producer Fionn Greger, it tells the story of Andy (Shane Murray-Corcoran) and Maggie (Iseult Casey), two young people setting out on a relationship, and what happens when the world intervenes. “The story for Twice Shy came about from my desire to tell a love story”, says Tom. “I also wanted to make something with a bit more complexity than my debut film, Trampoline. I’m attracted to character dramas, and I thought that a young romance put to the test by an unplanned pregnancy would be an engaging story with a lot of room for character development.” Abortion is, of course, a pivotal topic right now for women throughout Ireland – as evidenced by the recent turnout for the 5th Annual March for Choice in Dublin, the visibility of t-shirts and jumpers announcing support, and a very real discussion on this central issue beginning to emerge in the media.
Twice Shy also does what cinema, with all its arts, does best – humanise what is often thought of in the abstract, and gives us two characters we can get to know intimately as we watch them traverse the obstacles of tough decisions. Tom Ryan agrees that this is an important point, in terms of what the story brings to the screen, and vice-versa. “Cinema is an ideal medium to humanise and explore topical issues that may be perceived as controversial. The characters of Andy and Maggie allowed us to bring balance and context to what is often a polemical debate. This is an issue that is very rarely approached with such sensitivity in Irish film, so it felt important to the whole cast and crew to tell this story and do it justice.” There’s no denying that the issue of abortion is still a divisive one, in a country that exports the problem on a daily basis to England and beyond, but it is also an ever-present one. By opening up this dialogue, films like this give us the opportunity to bring it into our daily conversation, and really get to grips with what can be a taboo subject. “It also allows us to humanise the issue of abortion and portray it in a sensitive light”, Tom continues. “Usually in the media, this issue gets brought up in the form of a debate. One of the goals with Twice Shy was to tell the story of our two lead characters… and through their relationship we could portray the issue of abortion in what is hopefully a relatable and sensitive way.”
The lead characters, Maggie and Andy, are from a small town in Tipperary, and move to Dublin to go to college – as so many do. They forge their relationship in comforting and familiar rural surroundings, and bring it to the city, where the distractions of growing up and growing apart are all entwined in the adult experiences they are seeking. They are anchored by strong father figures – played, with suitable gravity and magnetism, by Ardal O’Hanlon (Andy’s father) and Pat Shortt (Maggie’s). Both represent linchpins of our rural culture – family men, who struggle to identify with the younger generation and with their own place in the world, but forge ahead as best they can. Love, regret and abortion are not the only heavy-hitting issues dealt with in the film, as depression and loneliness are given the space they deserve in this deeply human portrayal of everyday life. Tom acknowledges the strong role these characters played in centring the film; “Having actors of Ardal O’ Hanlon and Pat Shortt’s talents and stature attached to the film was a massive boost, especially to an independent production like this. It was really a dream come true for the cast and crew to be working alongside Ardal and Pat. My producer Fionn and I were very lucky to get them on board at an early stage in the production.” Both actors seamlessly support the main characters, young lovers on an unknown path, and give the film an emotional depth heightened by the very real, and often quite specifically rural, issues at play.
Not to be outshone, Iseult and Shane’s performances and natural chemistry hold the film’s focus determinedly on their relationship, and the complex decisions that very recognisably make up any joining of two personalities. There is so much to enjoy in this short, but deep, production, yet, as a film that’s gaining plaudits – including a recent Rising Star win for both Tom Ryan and Iseult Casey at Irish Screen America – and portraying such a distinctively Irish world, it has not yet been given a general release. Twice Shy does not try to give a definitive stance on the abortion debate, choosing instead to simply start a conversation, and encourage viewers to join in. However, abortion is still a strong story element of a strong love story, and cannot be dismissed. While it might seem an unusual choice to include such a controversial topic in an everyday relationship, it is a stark reality faced by over ten women a day in this country. Twice Shy shines a light on a darkened corner of our collective truth, and reminds us that though the reasons for travelling may be as varied as the reasons for falling in and out of love, the journey remains the same.
Twice Shy has screened this year at the Galway Film Fleadh and the Indie Cork Festival.