Out of Innocence, made in 2016, is a film based on the infamous Kerry Babies case and it has finally reached Irish cinemas. The film collected several awards and accolades three years ago and, finally, it’s been released in Ireland. Set in rural Kerry, the film captures the essence of Catholic Ireland in 1984. The drama stars Fiona Shaw as the mother figure, and she effectively portrays a stern Catholic woman who is controlled by Catholic Church ideologies.
The film recounts the story of a new-born baby’s body, found washed up on a beach in Kerry. While this is happening, a young woman gives birth to a stillborn baby who has been conceived out of wedlock and, out of fear and shame, buries the infant on her family farm. This leads to the intrusive and wrongful arrest of the young protagonist, Sarah Flynn (Fionnula Flaherty), for the murder of two babies. With evidence and science stacked against the Gardaí, they remain aggressive in their investigation and presume her guilty, in a fitting parallel for the continuing trial against all Irish women.
One of the film’s most striking moments is when Sarah Flynn gives birth in the family barn among the hay bales, on a cold dark night, completely alone. Fionnula Flaherty renders this moment tremendously, making it almost unbearably heart-breaking to watch. This conjures an almost sickening comparison to the Ann Lovett case, highlighting that this isn’t the first time a woman has given birth alone and afraid, all because of Catholic scaremongering. The camera lingers on the statue of the Virgin Mary, driving home the parallel between these two women.
Her sister Frances is played by Judith Roddy, best known for her work in Derry Girls as Ms De Brún. She heartbreakingly sets out to search for her sisters’ baby on the farm to prove her innocence, and she is entrancing to watch as she plays this quiet but strong character. In contrast to these dark scenes, the music throughout the film, in conjunction with the scenes of rural and coastal landscapes, beautifully captures the conflicting emotions of these moments.
“A film that gives a voice to the young women who have been ostracised, shamed and abused by the Catholic church and Irish State”
The gruesome and coercive interrogation by the Gardai is captured viscerally, as Alun Armstrong is convincingly cold and aggressive in his role as Detective Callaghan. The Gardaí’s prejudicial investigation captured by the intense media scrutiny leads to a tribunal to judge how the Gardaí carried out this case, and this is where the film captures the shear stress and terror that Sarah and her family underwent. Fiona Shaw shines in her scene with the local priest; he strolls past their family cottage while she is gardening and she calls after him ‘‘Father, Father’’, to get his attention, only for him to reply that he’s making a “few well deserved calls” as he continues down the lane.
Overall, director and writer Danny Hiller deserves endless praise for imbuing this important film with layers of pain handled with care, painting an unflinching portrait of a shameful moment in Irish history which haunts us to this day. Out of Innocence is a film that gives a voice to the young women who have been ostracised, shamed and abused by the Catholic church and Irish State. As the local priest and the community shun the family, Aunt Patsy’s words sum up the Catholic Church’s attitude towards women: ‘‘It’s so cold in here. It’s always so cold here’’.
In a nutshell: A beautifully woven tale of shame and innocence. Stand with the women of Ireland and go see this film.