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Maeve (1981)

British Film Institute

Main image of Maeve (1981)
DirectorPat Murphy
DirectorJohn Davies
Production CompaniesBFI Production Board
 Radio-Telefis Eireann
ScriptPat Murphy
Director of PhotographyRobert Smith

Cast: Mary Jackson (Maeve Sweeney); Mark Mulholland (Martin Sweeney); Brid Brennan (Roisin Sweeney); Trudy Kelly (Eileen Sweeney); John Keegan (Liam Doyle)

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Maeve returns home to Belfast after a long absence. Her arrival in the city stimulates a series of memories of childhood and adolescence both in herself and other people.

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Although co-directed with John Davis, Maeve (1981) is usually credited to Pat Murphy, and has been widely analysed both in terms of its formal, experimental qualities and its place within the underdeveloped tradition of Irish feminist filmmaking. Maeve arises out of a highly politicised moment in independent filmmaking, which saw filmmakers attempt to apply current theoretical debates (around feminism, deconstruction, Marxism) to their practice.

The film challenges audiences to abandon mainstream viewing habits through a number of strategies. Hence, it is difficult to identity with the central characters, Maeve (Mary Jackson), her sister, Roisin (Brid Brennan), or her boyfriend, Liam (John Keegan), each of whom represents a distinct ideological standpoint - the questioning feminist, the conventional young woman, the committed republican. The camera denies the voyeuristic pleasures of observing the female body, notably in the scenes where Maeve and her sister appear in the nude. Time lapses are not signalled and the viewer must be attentive in order to follow the numerous temporal shifts within the narrative.

Maeve is committed to a discussion of the issues around feminism and nationalism, specifically following the renewal of the 'Troubles' in 1969. Up for debate was whether nationalism could abandon its old, paternalistic image and accommodate the demands of feminist thinkers. In a key scene, Maeve and Liam stand looking over Belfast from Cave Hill, where she challenges him over Republicanism's obsession with the past. Liam argues that the present can only be understood by remembering the past. Maeve responds in exasperation, "You're talking about a false memory... the way you want to remember excludes me. I get remembered out of existence."

In these and other ways, Maeve makes strange the conventional visual and narrative signifiers of Irish cinema - the feisty colleen, the heritage landscape, the romance of armed struggle - in an attempt to create a new space for the dissenting voice of feminism.

In her subsequent career, Murphy has moved towards a greater engagement with issues of audience pleasure. Her later films Anne Devlin (1984) and Nora (UK/Ireland/Germany/Italy, 2000) demonstrate a commitment to creating a woman's history on screen by focusing on key female characters who have been sidelined by a male historical and literary tradition.

Ruth Barton

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Video Clips
1. On Cave Hill (5:54)
2. With her father (2:23)
3. Padraig Pearse (2:27)
4. In the graveyard (5:22)
Production stills
Ascendancy (1982)
Gentle Gunman, The (1952)
Female Protagonists
The BFI Production Board: The Features
Women and Film