THE inspiration behind Cork screenplay writer and director, Oonagh Kearney’s TV drama, On the Hemline, is class structure and gender. Currently available to view on the RTÉ Player until early January, having been commissioned by Storyland which showcases emerging talent, the 20-minute drama was shot in Cork.
Featuring a plethora of Cork actors, including Eileen Walsh in the lead role and 12-year-old newcomer Kaci Power O’Driscoll as her daughter, as well as thespian brothers Conor and Louis Lovett, and LA-based UCC graduate Barbara Healy as producer, the story revolves around long-term unemployed northsider Martha (Eileen Walsh). She needs to earn a living to support her talented daughter’s acceptance onto a STEM programme at UCC for secondary school pupils.
Through a charity called Hemline, which motivates women and prepares them for job interviews, Martha meets the recently widowed middle-class southsider Sheenagh (Cathy Belton). Their different worlds collide as Sheenagh takes Martha under her wing.
This is not without complications as Martha has low self-esteem. Her 12-year-old daughter, Dawn, misbehaves and is against the idea of her mother taking up a job as the last time Martha worked, she couldn’t cope.
Kearney, a filmmaker who has written and directed a documentary and nine short films, is
interested in the class divide and gender.
“At the moment, we’re looking at women supporting each other as they voice stories of abuse from people in power in the workplace. In my life and work, I’ve experienced the solidarity of women. But I think it’s under-represented. The unlikely friendship that happens between Martha and Sheenagh is, I think, plausible. They are destined to meet. What I’m trying to reveal is that the step Martha is about to take is huge and causes her much anxiety.” (Martha has an interview for a job which is a source of fear.)
Having been based in London for ten years, Kearney is back living in her native city. She describes her situation as the best of both worlds. “Every month, I go to London as part of the BBC’s Writers’ Room. I learn about the TV drama that the BBC puts out and I’m learning about children’s drama.”
Made on a tight budget of €30,000, Kearney is hoping On the Hemline will get the green light from RTÉ to turn the drama into a series.
“It takes a village and a family to make a film,” says Kearney, whose various clan members allowed the film crew to stay in their homes when they were on holidays during the summer. Kearney praises Film in Cork, the organisation that markets the city as a good place from which to make films. Film in Cork helped Kearney with locations and logistics.
She is currently in development with the Irish Film Board for her first feature. “It has taken me a while to get to this point,” says the 40-year old. “The feature is about three women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who are in crisis. They’re running away from their lives. It’s a road movie set on a tractor on the coldest night of the year.”
There is comedy in On the Hemline. “Some people have said to me that it’s comedy drama. I think the comedy comes out of almost painfully funny situations. They feel real as opposed to gags. I’m not trying to write funny material. I’m trying to be real and sometimes, being real is funny.”
Sexual harassment in the international film industry is currently a big issue, but Kearney says she has never seen anything awful. “I’ve never seen harassment but I have experienced climates of fear. Whether that’s gender specific, I don’t know. I actually have had some very good male mentors, some of whom have been older men. But I also perceive that there’s been a status quo that I’m very unhappy with. That has to change with more women getting to write and direct.”
On The Hemline is available now here