Goretti, Majella, Sinead and Dinky are four school friends living in the catholic ghettos of the Bogside and Creggan estates in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1984. At the age of 15 they are full of youthful exuberance and boys feature largely in their interests. When Goretti meets Ciarán at an Irish language class a romance begins.
Hush-A-Bye Baby is a heart-renderingly smart and pertinent feminist film, the directorial debut of Margo Harkin. Shot on 16mm film in Derry and Donegal, it premiered to critical acclaim in Dublin and went on to win many prizes including one for its lead actress Emer McCourt at Locarno International Film Festival.
The film was produced under unique conditions by Derry Film & Video Workshop (DFVW). Some of the more positive conditions were created by DFVW themselves, and others by state censorship and a backdrop of violence which saw Margo and her family’s flat raided by the army and police.
The overall temperature in social, political and power relations at the time was hot: and the influence of religion on public and private social behaviour very strong. In 1983 there had been a referendum in Ireland – overturned in 2018 – which resulted in abortion being prohibited asides from when a pregnant woman’s life was at risk. The situation was similar in Northern Ireland. After its first TV screening on RTÉ, a viewer wrote to the Derry Journal to exclaim,
“Sir – If sewage is part of any community then the film Hush-a-Bye Baby is a septic tank. Apart from the low moral tone and gratuitous foul language, this infectious little film included the oddity of a Brit speaking bizarre Irish.”
And a week later in response:
“I think they (the critics) are right. There is no pre-marital sex, there is no teenager that swears, no-one in Derry has had an abortion, no one gets alienated from their parents, everyone goes to Mass on Sunday and tops it off with a good bomb-free match at the Brandywell.”
According to Margaret Dickinson, Anne Cottringer and Julian Petley who wrote about Hush-a-Bye Baby in Vertigo Magazine (1993), Margo Harkin and Stephanie English “based the story of Hush-a-Bye Baby on anonymous interviews with young girls who had become pregnant, and ideas drawn from a drama workshop on sex and sexuality entitled No Sex Please, We’re Irish which was organised for teenagers from the city’s schools and Youth Training Schemes.”
The resulting script and film which resulted bristles with microscopically accurate and embodied observations of late 1980s Derry, Northern Irish discos and acidly depreciative Northern Irish humour. Razor sharp edits, very precise framing and a stellar cast (including Sinead O’Connor) allow Hush-A-Bye Baby to soar while remaining disarmingly true to its characters and the hostile environment they lived through.
A truly remarkable film.
Derry Film & Video Workshop
Established in Derry in 1983 and operating until 1989, Derry Film and Video Workshop (DFVW) was one of the companies formed under the terms of the 1982 Workshop Declaration—an initiative of The Independent Filmmakers’ Association, the British Film Institute, and ACTT (the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians). The workshop movement sought to democratise the process of filmmaking and distribution, and amplify the voices of those who were marginalised on the basis of race, gender, geography, sexuality and class. Workshops such as Sankofa Film and Video Collective (with notable members including Isaac Julien), Black Audio Film Collective (including John Akomfrah), and Amber Film & Photography Collective were also supported under this scheme. Newly established ‘publisher broadcaster,’ Channel 4, provided the platform to distribute their works. Largely omitted from histories of these regional, minority, South Asian and Black workshops as well as from histories of feminist counter-cinema, DFVW explored overlapping political tensions around gender, class, the Irish ‘national question’ and legacies of imperialism.
Convened around a set of methods that included collective structures and self-representation, DFVW produced a number of films including Stop Strip Searching, Planning, Mother Ireland and Hush-a-Bye Baby as well as enacting various forms of community cultural education. Working to counteract the epistemic violence of depictions of the north of Ireland, its conflict and its people by British TV news and cinema, members of DFVW sought to tell a different story about their lived political and social realities.