Streaming Review

The 8th review – simple but stirring account of Irish women’s fight for autonomy

This documentary on the Irish abortion referendum gives joyful hope for the future, even if its presentation can be a little bland

There aren’t many moments in recent western politics that lend themselves to a genuinely feelgood documentary, but Ireland’s 2018 vote to repeal the 8th Amendment and legalise abortion is just such a moment. The 8th, which covers the repeal campaign from its historical origins to the day after victory was achieved, is a simple but stirring account, an accessible insight into Irish women’s fight for their lives and bodily autonomy.

Following both decades-long veterans of the fight and newly politicised young women, The 8th balances its history lessons with boots on the ground protest as emotions run high and relationships are forged. Telling the story in a mostly linear way – with the final outcome of the vote already known – allows for a more jovial tone than you might expect from such serious subject matter, though the anti-choice movement maintains a consistently malign presence.

From Catholic misogyny to “think of the babies” moralising, the campaigners face down startling hatred, often from other women, which both distresses in the moment and adds an additional layer of catharsis as the country starts leaning the direction of the repealers.

It’s a powerful and uplifting story on its own merits, but one that doesn't allow directors Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, and Maeve O’Boyle to take many stylistic or formal risks – this is all talking heads and protest footage, which can get a bit repetitive. The 8th also slightly overextends itself when it folds the horrifying scandals at the Catholic-run mother-and-baby homes from the ‘20s to the ‘60s. It makes sense in amongst the theme of violent sexism that pervades Irish society, but its relatively brief discussion here feels like it belongs in a documentary of its own.

As we’ve seen in the last few years, political and social progress is a fragile thing, but The 8th firmly plants its feet in hope for the future in a manner that is mostly irresistible.

The 8th is now streaming on Curzon Home Cinema.

Where to watch

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