Sarah is a young 17-year-old teenager living in Belfast. But under the cover of darkness and without her parents knowing, she and her boyfriend Jules set off to catch the ferry to Liverpool.
On the way, they banter, joke and argue like young lovers, barely touching on the reason why they have set off on their journey. But when they arrive, they must confront the life-altering choice that brings them to Liverpool in the first place.
Written and directed by Lee Armstrong and produced by Lindsay Fraser, this powerful coming-of-age drama is both an incisive portrayal of how lives are affected by difficult social policies and an empathetic portrait of a young woman living through a difficult decision. Told with the muted tones and naturalistic lighting of social realism, it achieves a remarkable intimacy, capturing Sarah’s internal journey as well as the external one taken with her boyfriend.
The storytelling does not mention the situation that Sarah and Jules are navigating at the beginning of the narrative, letting us know Sarah and Jules as people first. There’s a lot of love and affection between the couple, and they’re also young, especially as they horse around and kill time on the ferry by playing video games.
With such carefree moments and lovely images on the ferry, viewers could think the trip is simply a lark for the couple at the beginning. But we soon detect a strain and tension between the couple and especially within Sarah — one that becomes more apparent when they arrive at their destination and confront just why they’re there.
Actor Saoirse-Monica Jackson — acclaimed for her work in hugely popular series Derry Girls — anchors the film with a compelling, layered performance of a young woman grappling with a difficult choice. Tough, smart but also tremendously vulnerable, Sarah is both highly specific as a character but also a compelling everywoman, making what she undergoes both ordinary and difficult. And after, Jackson captures how remarkably alone Sarah feels, even with her boyfriend with her. The sadness puts up a wall between her and Jules, one that leaves the couple’s future up in the air, despite their great affection for each other.
Supported by the BFI Network through National Lottery funding, “Liverpool Ferry” comes as debates over terminating pregnancies continue to roil in the news worldwide. At the time of the film’s production, Northern Ireland had some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, carrying criminal penalties for women who underwent the procedure as well as for those who helped them. But on the last day of filming “Liverpool Ferry” in 2019, abortion was decriminalized in the country, so the film is in some ways a historical remembrance of those women who made the journey. It captures how long the trip was, and how complicated the emotional terrain could be — a psychological landscape that can be difficult even under the best of circumstances and highest of privileges.