21 September 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
St. Brigid's Day: Irish Female Talent on the Rise
01 Feb 2021 : Nathan Griffin
St. Brigid's Day (Credit: DFAT, MKA)
Today IFTN will celebrate St. Brigidís Day by highlighting the work of some of the Irish Women making waves in the Irish and international Screen industries, with a look at recent developments, how the industry continues to improve for female cast and crew, and a look back at some of our recent interviews with the Irish Women blazing a trail in the industry.

The first of February marks the celebration of St. Brigid, Ireland’s female patron saint, for which we celebrate her role of renewal, warmth, and her positive role in human affairs, which has been put into sharper focus in recent years. The celebration also highlights the arrival of longer, warmer days, and the early signs of spring; something we all eagerly anticipate as we continue to remain indoors.

A New Spring

As in other countries Irish female writers and directors have long had a poor relation to their male counterparts, representing a small portion of those in the director’s chair or writing feature scripts, or holding major roles behind the camera as heads of department (beyond Hair, Makeup, and Costume). Even in front of the camera, leading roles for Irish Actresses were in short supply with the dominance of male writers and directors resulting in a dearth of leading or even good roles for actresses. 

After decades of imbalance across the industry, Screen Ireland (then the Irish Film Board) first introduced their gender policy in December 2015. This was followed by a raft of gender equality initiatives, and these combined to have a massive impact on the sector. In 2018,  projects with female screenwriters and directors attached increased to 36% and 45%, respectively, and have continued to grow since then.

The 2020 IFTA Film & Drama awards saw a record number of submissions for women across the board with actresses outnumbering their male counterparts in leading roles submitted for the first time. 

Things are improving, but there is still more work to be done to overturn years of imbalance. Thankfully, there is an incredible and ever-growing list of Irish Female talent in front of and behind the camera in upcoming Irish Film and TV Productions and IFTN is looking forward to covering them in the coming year.

Highlights include Herself; directed by Phyllida Lloyd and co-written by and starring Clare Dunne. Herself tells the story of Sandra (Dunne), a young mother who escapes her abusive husband and fights back against a broken housing system. She sets out to build her own home and in the process rebuilds her life and rediscovers herself. The film premiered in Sundance in 2020 to great acclaim and is currently on Amazon Prime in the US.

Another Highlight is Cathy Brady’s Wildfire, which premiered to rave reviews in Toronto in 2020, and features standout performances from Nora- Jane Noone and the sadly departed Nika McGuigan, who play two sisters that grew up on the fractious Irish border. When one of them, who has gone missing, finally returns home, the intense bond between the sisters is reignited.

Ruth Meehan’s debut feature, The Bright Side, debuted in Cork and features Gemma Leah-Devereux as world-weary stand-up comedian Kate McLoughlin, who is diagnosed with cancer. For Kate, this is the perfect excuse. However, a last supper of dodgy shellfish and champagne puts paid to her overdose attempt, and to placate her family, she begrudgingly agrees to undergo treatment. Armed with staggering levels of cynicism and a plethora of blackly comic jokes, Kate gets off to a bad start with the four other women she encounters on the chemo ward, whose unsolicited friendships are destined to blow open her shut-down heart.

Later this week the Virgin Media Dublin Film Festival will announce its programme, but already confirmed is the world premiere of Deadly Cuts starring Angeline Ball (The Commitments, Shameless), Ericka Roe (Herself, Dublin Murders), Lauren Larkin (Love/Hate), Shauna Higgins (Dating Amber, Red Rock), and Victoria Smurfit (Once Upon A Time, Marcella). Deadly Cuts follows the stylists of a Dublin hair salon, who become accidental vigilantes as they take on a local gang threatening their community. The comedy marks the feature debut of writer/director Rachel Carey.

On smaller screens, we are excited to see new work from directors such as Hannah Quinn on Vikings: Valhalla, while in front of the camera we are excited to see Seána Kerslake take the lead in the comedy Ballywalter, which has just finished shooting in Belfast. Niamh Algar has followed up her incredible 2020, which saw her take home two IFTAs and star in Ridley Scott’s Raised by Wolves with another standout performance in the critically lauded horror Censor, which just premiered at Sundance. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg and IFTN looks forward to covering these and many more of Ireland’s female talent in film and TV but for now, on St. Brigid’s day, why not take a look back at some of our recent interviews with some of Ireland’s best talent.

Emer Reynolds

A Grierson-nominated feature documentary director and multi-award winning film editor, Emer Reynolds’ made her directorial debut with the documentary Here Was Cuba, co-directed with John Murray, which screened at festivals worldwide, on More4, and was nominated for a Grierson Award in 2014. 

In 2017, Reynolds directed the award-winning feature documentary The Farthest, about the amazing story of the Voyager spacecraft. After a very successful release in Ireland, the U.K., and the U.S., the documentary won Outstanding Science Documentary at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards in 2018. 

A five-time IFTA-winning editor, Reynold’s recently caught up with IFTN to discuss her highly-anticipated Phil Lynott documentary, Songs For While I’m Away, which is due for release once cinemas reopen.

Read our interview with Emer Reynold.

Niamh Algar

The Mullingar native has enjoyed one of the most meteoric rises among Irish talent over the past two years, in particular, one which was marked off with two IFTA awards at the 2020 IFTA Film & Drama Awards back in October. 

A Screen Star of Tomorrow and a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit, Algar had standout performances in Shane Meadows' critically acclaimed drama, The Virtues for Channel 4, and Nick Rowland's Calm With Horses, produced by Element Pictures and Michael Fassbender's DMC Films. 

Other credits include BBC’s MotherFatherSon, and more recently, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi series Raised By Wolves for HBO Max. Algar can next be seen opposite Jason Statham, Josh Hartnet, Scott Eastwood, in Guy Richie’s Cash Truck.

Read our interview with Niamh Algar.

Bronagh Gallagher

A multi-talented, Derry native, Bronagh Gallagher returned to the cinema screen with her first leading role in a feature film, when she embodied fun-loving, 44-year-old single mum, Pamela, in the heart-warming Derry-based comedy, A Bump Along The Way. The performance also saw her pick up an IFTA nomination for Best Actress at the 2020 IFTA Film & Drama Awards. 

The film, which was selected to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, picked up the Best Irish First Feature award at the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh. Led by an all-female creative team, the film saw Bronagh team up with sister Louise Gallagher, on what was the debut feature film for producer Louise, director Shelley Love, writer Tess McGowan, and co-star Lola Petticrew.

More recently, Gallagher has starred in Daniel Brocklehurst’s original Sky comedy, Brassic, Epix’s Belgravia, and alongside Dev Patel in Film 4’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. A four-time IFTA-nominee, Bronagh has also featured in a range of Irish films such as The Commitments, Sinners, Spin The Bottle, and Grabbers.

Read our interview with actress Bronagh Gallagher.

Kate McCullough

Kate McCullough has firmly established herself as one of Ireland’s most talented cinematographers and has continued to garner well-deserved attention from the industry since her transition into drama in recent years. McCullough has worked on projects such as Maurice Sweeney’s I, Dolours, Adrian Dunbar-led drama Blood, and Tom Sullivan’s famine epic and Oscar International Film hopeful, Arracht, for which she was nominated for an IFTA in 2020.

Separate from working on these projects, Kate also featured as cinematographer on six episodes of Element Pictures’ internationally acclaimed drama, Normal People, which broke the BBC iPlayer viewing figures record late last year. Her previous work includes Emer Reynold’s News & Documentary Emmy-winning documentary, The Farthest (2017), for which she was nominated for Outstanding Lighting Direction and Scenic Design.

Read our interview with cinematographer Kate McCullough.

Seana Kerslake

Seána Kerslake has established herself as one of Ireland’s leading actors after breaking through at an international level with Lee Cronin’s hit Irish psychological horror, The Hole In The Ground  (2019). The film, which made its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival, was picked up by A24 and DirecTV for distribution in North America and has since secured distribution sales in multiple territories worldwide.

Kerslake also featured in Paul Mercier’s We Ourselves (2018), an unconventional film dealing with the lives of a group of seven friends over a period of more than two decades, articulated through a collection of monologues; as well as the screen adaptation of Emmet Kirwan’s critically acclaimed stage play, Dublin Oldschool (2018).

A four-time IFTA-nominee, Kerslake first came to prominence alongside Jack Reynor in her feature film debut, Dollhouse (2012), which was written and directed by Kirsten Sheridan. Since then she has delivered a number of establishing performances including the titular role in A Date For Mad Mary (2016); Colin and Darren Thornton’s IFTA-winning debut feature film, and Deadpan Pictures’ RTE series Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope (2018). 

Kerslake can next be seen in Parallel Film’s drama My Salinger Year, Treasure Entertainment’s new thriller series Smother, and Northern Irish comedy, Ballywalter, on which production recently wrapped.

Read our interview with actress Seana Kerslake.

Jessie Fisk

Producer Jessie Fisk is best known for her work on Mark O’Halloran’s stage-adaptation, Rialto (2019), which featured an IFTA-winning performance from Tom Vaughan-Lawlor opposite Tom Glynn-Carney; Forever Pure (2016), which won a News & Documentary Emmy Award in 2018; and Pat Collin’s IFTA-nominated feature documentary Song of Granite (2017), which was Ireland’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards in 2018.

Following the release of her most recent production, Tom Burke’s insightful environmental documentary Losing Alaska (2018), Fisk joined forces with writer/director Nathalie Biancheri (Nocturnal) under their new production banner, Feline Films. Their upcoming projects include Biancheri’s latest project Wolf, starring George MacKay and Lily-Rose Depp, which shot late last year, and Carlo Lavagna’s Italian thriller Shadows (2020), which stars Saskia Reeves, Lola Petticrew, and Mia Threapleton.

Read our interview with producer Jessie Fisk.

Fiona Graham

Originally working in continuity for several years, Fiona Graham has worked across a spectrum of roles within the industry, including script supervision (A Date for Mad Mary), Assistant camera (Maze), and focus pulling (Red Rock). As well as the acting editor and DoP on Heyday: The Mic Christopher Story, Fiona produced the documentary alongside Alan Leonard under their production company, Single Cell Films.

Heyday: The Mic Christopher Story is a heartfelt story that charts the life of singer-songwriter Mic Christopher, told through the eyes of those whose lives he touched including Oscar-winner Glen Hansard, Actor/writer Sharon Horgan, Mike Scott of The Waterboys, Bronagh Gallagher, Josh Ritter, Lisa Hannigan, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, and many more. 

Read our interview with cinematographer Fiona Graham.

Sarah Bolger

On screen from a young age, Sarah Bolger has starred in Jim Sheridan’s Oscar-nominated In America (2003), Stormbreaker (2006), The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008), The Moth Diaries (2011), The Lazarus Effect (2015), and Emelie (2015). On television, she portrayed Princess Mary Tudor in The Tudors (2008–2010), for which she won an IFTA award, and Princess Aurora in Once Upon a Time (2012–2015). Bolger also appeared on the series Into the Badlands (2015–2017). 

More recently she was the star of Abner Pastoll’s 2019 crime thriller, A Good Woman is Hard to Find, where she plays a recently widowed young mother who seeks the truth behind her husband’s murder and Samson Films’ End of Sentence opposite Oscar Nominee John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) and Logan Lerman (Fury). Since 2018, Sarah has also appeared as Emily Thomas in the first two seasons of Mayans M.C.; the spin-off series to multi-award winning Sons of Anarchy.   

Read our interview with actress Sarah Bolger.

Louise Gallagher

Louise Gallagher produced the IFTA-nominated, smash-hit comedy A Bump Along the Way, starring Bronagh Gallagher and Lola Petticrew. Filmed entirely in Derry and led by an all-female creative team, A Bump along the Way released to much critical acclaim following its win at the Galway Film Fleadh where it received the Best First Irish Feature award and its international premiere at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. The film was also BIFA-shortlisted for the Raindance Discovery Award. 

In 2011, Louise moved into the independent film and TV sector, working as a freelance Production Manager, Line Producer and Producer on short films, features films, children’s TV drama, commercials and live television for clients such as Nickelodeon, Buccaneer TV, RTE, TG4, The Fyzz Facility, Out Of Orbit, CauseAscene Films, Village Films, The Guardian and Northern Ireland Screen. 

In recent years, Louise’s credits include Out of Orbit’s The Dig, Produced by Brian J Falconer, which also received an IFTA nomination at the 2020 Film & Drama Awards. In 2019, Gallagher was announced as Hat Trick Productions’ (Derry Girls) new Scripted Executive Producer in Belfast.

Read our interview with producer Louise Gallagher.

Aoife Crehan

Writer/director Aoife Crehan’s debut feature film, The Last Right picked up the Audience Award at the 64th Cork International Film Festival back in November 2019. The heart-warming and bittersweet comedy-drama marks Crehan’s directorial debut in feature film as well as penning her first feature-length script. 

The film starred Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones), Niamh Algar (The Virtues), Samuel Bottomley (Wolf Hall), and a supporting cast including Brian Cox (Succession), Michael McElhatton (Game of Thrones), Colm Meaney (The Snapper), and Jim Norton (Father Ted). 

Read our interview with writer/director Aoife Crehan.

Catherine Walker

Walker has starred in a number of high-profile Irish productions including Samson Film’s latest drama Rosie Plays Julie; RTÉ’s historical dramas’ Rebellion and Resistance; Treasure Entertainment’s Amy Huberman-led dramedy Finding Joy; Viko Nikci’s Cellar Door; Mark O’Rowe’s directorial debut The Delinquent Season; Liam Gavin’s horror A Dark Song; and Terry McMahon’s IFTA-winning drama, Patrick's Day.

A four-time IFTA-nominated actress, Walker was most recently nominated at the virtual ceremony in 2020 for her rich and textured individual performance in Paul Mercier’s, We Ourselves. She has also starred as Alice Brooks in Scottish drama Shetland, which was produced by BBC Scotland.

Walker was most recently seen alongside Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why) in Netflix’s fantasy-adventure, Cursed, which is written by Sin City and 300 writer Frank Miller, and in Lisa McGee’s (Derry Girls) drama series, The Deceived 

Read our interview with actress Catherine Walker.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes

A two-time IFTA nominee and EFP Shooting Star, Antonia Campbell-Hughes recently starred as twin sisters Cordelia and Caroline in Adrian Shergold’s thriller Cordelia. The Northern Irish actor also featured alongside Emile Hirsch and John Cusack in Ivan Kavanagh’s Irish western Never Grow Old, and in Alexandra McGuinness’ debut feature film, She’s Missing alongside Josh Hartnett, Lucy Fry, and Eiza González. 

Upcoming projects include Northern Irish thriller Black Medicine; David Lynch-executive produced mystery-drama The Other Me; and Andrew Baird’s Sci-Fi thriller, Zone 414 starring Guy Pearce.

Campbell-Hughes also wrapped her feature directorial debut during lockdown; It Is In Us All shot in rural Ireland over four and a half weeks during October and November last year amid Covid-19 restrictions. The film stars Cosmo Jarvis (Calm With Horses), whose character returns to Donegal; his ancestral homeland in the North-West of Ireland. While there, he is drawn in by a teenage boy who almost kills him in a car crash.

Read our interview with actor/writer/director Antonia Campbell-Hughes.

Hannah Quinn

Quinn has been one of the leading Irish directors making a name for herself both in Ireland & the UK in recent times following her work on Netflix drama The Stranger and Virgin Media Television’s original drama Blood.

A director on the recently released Netflix fantasy-drama Fate: The Winx Saga, Hannah boasts an impressive list of credits as 1st and 2nd A/D, which has seen her work with Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) Ridley Scott (The Martian, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), and Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men). Quinn has also worked as an A/D on several Irish productions in recent years including Lance Daly’s Black ’47, Rebecca Daly’s Good Favour, Stephen Burke’s Maze, Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, and Stephen Bradley’s Noble.

Read our interview with director Hannah Quinn.

Leah McNamara

A Drama and Theatre graduate from UCC and an alumni of the prestigious screen acting college, Bow Street Academy, McNamara has enjoyed an impressive rise to prominence over the last two years with roles in BBC/Starz series Dublin Murders in 2019 and Element’s smash-hit Emmy-Nominated series Normal People last year. Leah has also appeared in Vikings and Irish feature films Metal Heart, directed by Hugh O’Conor, and Viko Nicki’s Cellar Door.  

Leah’s 2021 is also set to be busy on-screen as she recently wrapped filming on BBC film’s Danny Boy, directed by Sam Miller (Luther;I May Destroy You) opposite Toby Jones (The Hunger Games; Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Anthony Boyle (Lost City of Z). 

Read our interview with actress Leah McNamara.

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