Writer-director Ciarán Creagh was in studio to chat to Seán Rocks on Arena about his new feature film Ann; inspired by the 1984 story of Ann Lovett. Seán also talks to two of the stars of the movie, Zara Devlin who plays the character 'Ann' and Eileen Walshe who plays her mother.

The film is the story of one day in the life of a 15-year old girl in a small town in Ireland. It is fiction, but closely based on the life and death of the real Ann Lovett, who died on the 31st of January 1984; some hours after giving birth to her stillborn son in an area close to a church in her home town of Granard in County Longford. Some of the names in the film have been invented, but the filmmakers felt it was important to use the name Ann, and to use it as the title of the movie, as Ciarán explains:

"Originally, it was to be called 13 Hours, because the film covers the period from half 6 in the morning until half 7 that night. But the whole thing with this film was, the one thing I always came back to was, what is it about? It’s about Ann, this 15-year old girl. And so, we just felt that, the best thing is, we had to just call it what her name was, because that was our aim, to put her name out there in the world."

Ciarán Creagh remembers being affected by the story as a teenager, but it wasn’t until many years later that he was inspired to make a film about it. In 2018, journalist Rosita Boland wrote a series of articles for The Irish Times about the events of 1984 and Ciarán was struck by Boland's detailed timeline of Ann Lovett’s final day:

"There was just something, it just pulled you in, just thinking about the day. Generally with a lot of tragedies they take the macro approach to it – this was so micro, […] I just felt I had to write this."

Creagh says that Boland’s detailed reporting was of enormous help to him in writing the movie. He says the town he created on screen could represent any small town in Ireland at the time:

"I also wanted to tell the story of an ordinary middling sized town - any town in Ireland. What went on in the day, the inane things, people going shopping or going to mass in the morning or whatever it might be, And then also to establish the sort of relationships that you’d expect from the 1980s, because a mother-father relationship is so much different than it might be in the 2020s."

Actor Zara Devlin is too young to have personal recollections of 1984 and Seán asked her how she prepared for playing the character of Ann in the film. Zara says she did plenty of research, but ultimately she focused on stepping into Ann’s shoes on an emotional level:

"For me, I wanted to take a step away from all, kind of, information around that time and focus on what it would have been like to simply be a 15-year old girl in that situation, and for me, it just helps me make everything a bit simpler in my head, to create, you know, to do those scenes, is to just simply imagine what it would be like to be 15 years old and be in that situation."

Seán asks Eileen Walsh about her approach to the character based on Ann Lovett’s mother. Eileen says she took Nell McCafferty’s book A Woman to Blame (about the 1984 Kerry Babies case) as a jumping-off point for her research, because it reflected the values of Irish society at the time. In terms of the real-life story of Ann Lovett, Eileen acknowledges the deeply private nature of a family tragedy, whilst recognising that the story marks a moment in Irish history:

"We don’t know her and Ann’s mother deserves her privacy and some of her family are still alive and so we must respect that. But as a story of the time, a historic story of the time, it’s important to mark the silence and the shame that these people held and continued on with, so that for me is where I started with her."

The film was shot in Boyle, County Roscommon. Director Ciarán Creagh has family ties to the north-west and he knows the town well:

"My mother is from Sligo, so I spent a lot of my youth in Boyle, so I knew Boyle backwards. That kind of helped in my mind when I was deciding where to shoot it, because I needed this flow around the town. "

The story which inspired the film happened in a small town in Longford, but Ciarán says he thinks it could have been any town:

"I’m sure it’s happened in many, many towns. Just because of what ultimately happened in Granard, it kind of gave it that kind of notoriety, but definitely it has to have happened everywhere."

Seán mentions a line from the film where Ann's friend "Brenda" (not the real name of a friend of Ann Lovett) says that there were people who would have helped her, if she had just asked. Ciarán says yes, he believes that to be true:

"Back then, I suppose, you’d have to ask for it. I don’t think they would have come forward. But I mean, if you asked and went to them, they would have. They would have, like the doctor, or whoever. I mean she could have went to the doctor’s surgery, she could have went to the school. It would have been difficult, but people would have helped her."

You can hear more from Ciarán, Zara and Eileen in the full chat with Seán Rocks, including an audio clip from the film here.

You can watch the Scannal episode on the true story of Ann Lovett on RTÉ Player here.

The film Ann is released on Friday, April 28th April 2023.