In an apartment in London, a small group of Irish women spends the night. They don’t seem to have a lot in common and seem very different in personality. One, Mickey, is young and spiky in demeanor; another, Helen, is young as well, and outgoing and chatty; another seems to be isolated in her own sadness and depression. They’re joined by the kind, gentle yet no-nonsense owner of the apartment.
But they have one important thing in common: they’ve left Ireland to travel to the U.K., where they can legally terminate their pregnancies.
The journey, however, comes with its own perils, traumas and tensions, whether it’s physical pain or their own internal feelings. But in this ad-hoc community, thrown together by their difficult experience and clashing with their different personalities, they find some understanding and empathy.
This reflective, sensitively-calibrated social drama — directed by Plum Stupple-Harris and written by Isobel McConnell and Stupple-Harris — goes deep inside a headline-making social issue, turning facts and policy into a deeply emotional journey that is fraught with pain but hopeful with connection.
From the carefully observant writing to the honest, unvarnished performances, the storytelling emphasizes a deeply humanistic take on a difficult subject, going deep into its characters’ experiences. The muted naturalism is gentle and suffused with a soft, melancholy light, framing this small, secret world with a sense of separateness that can either skew isolating or comforting, depending on where each character is at.
Its deliberate pacing and careful attention to the small details and textures of the experience — including the aftereffects, both physical and emotional — present each character with distinctiveness and individuality. The writing has the gift of not defining each character by the issue, but instead gives them unique personalities and ways of being in the world.
These personalities often clash, and sharing the close quarters in such a difficult emotional situation often proves contentious. The ensemble cast here — lead by Jamie-Lee O’Donnell as Mickey and Clara Baxendale as Helen — offer vivid characterizations and raw yet understated emotion, alive to how we can hold our feelings at arms’ length until they’re safe to be witnessed.
And ultimately, the idea of witness and understanding fuels the core of “A Secret Journey.” These women’s experiences are often kept secret, or pushed into the margins. Yet their ability to be open about them — and the film’s willingness to center them on screen — forwards the idea that any kind of healing, understanding or genuine engagement with difficult subjects must come with both the safety to be open — and a willingness to listen.