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'emotional' Shock of CervicalCheck cancer scandal compelled Robbie Walsh to make movie about it

'I don't know anyone that isn't affected by cancer. But for this story to unfold the way it did… I think we really need to wake up and make sure it never happens again'

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Director Robbie Walsh as a government minister with Fair City’s Aisling O’Neill

Director Robbie Walsh as a government minister with Fair City’s Aisling O’Neill

Director Robbie Walsh as a government minister with Fair City’s Aisling O’Neill

Former Fair City star Robbie Walsh was so shocked by the CervicalCheck cancer scandal that he says he was compelled to make a movie about it.

The Michael Inside tough guy actor brings out The Letters this week which tells the story of three fictional women facing their mortality after being given incorrect smear test results.

Walsh, who previously made the films Eden and Split, said it was a heartbreaking experience shooting the picture.

“I don't know anyone that isn't affected by cancer. But for this story to unfold the way it did… I think we really need to wake up and make sure it never happens again,” said the Dubliner.

“The film itself is a fictional story inspired by true events. I remember hearing bits of information about the scandal as it was slowly creeping into the public consciousness.

“My ears started picking up and I thought, ‘What! Hold on a second this can’t be accurate.’

“But thanks to people like Lorraine Walsh, Vicky Phelan, Emma Mhic Mhathúna and Lynsey Bennett more and more was being revealed and the more you found out the more terrifying it became.

“It was frightening because I have nieces, a mum, a sister and a lot of women in my extended family.

“I didn't know anybody who got a false diagnosis at that stage but I later interviewed some of the survivors and other people who suffered cervical cancer. It was very difficult to listen to their stories.

“It’s a very emotional film. There are a lot of people out there who don’t really have a voice to be front and centre.

“What we're trying to do with this film is to show how the average person, someone who doesn’t know how to utilize the media or the law, is affected by the scandal and how everyday mundane things become almost impossible as they become more ill.”

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John Connors consoles Kathleen Warner Yeates’ character

John Connors consoles Kathleen Warner Yeates’ character

John Connors consoles Kathleen Warner Yeates’ character

The film stars Love/Hate’s Mary Murray as a single mother of four children whose husband is no longer around and Kathleen Warner Yeates as an older woman looking after her elderly mother who has advanced Alzheimer’s.

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Sarah Carroll plays the third woman, a career professional who is socially awkward and reserved and has nobody to lean on.

Cardboard Gangsters star John Connors and Red Rock’s Chris Newman play family members while Walsh himself, who wrote, produced and directed the film, is an arrogant government minister refusing to accept any responsibility. Fair City star Aisling O’Neill plays his publicist.

“The film follows the women who are all in separate walks of life and shows how they interact and how the misdiagnosis affects their lives,” says Walsh.

“They are not wealthy or have power or influence. One scene shows actress Kathleen Warner Yeates trying to get her mum into a shower and it is heartbreaking.

“The film addresses the hopelessness, the powerlessness of their situation and the realisation that they face their own mortality on a daily basis.”

In real life more than 220 women were given the all-clear for cancer when in fact their tests had proved positive but they were not told until years later.

Walsh said the film had an unexpected ending, “something that hasn’t been seen in an Irish film before.”

He said: “It’s really going to take people by surprise. I really think people who see it are going to be moved by it.

“Because of what happened with CervicalCheck there is more scrutiny now into BreastCheck and BowelScreen.”

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Sarah Carroll

Sarah Carroll

Sarah Carroll

The director said as soon as he decided to make the film the first person he signed up was actress Sarah Carroll who appeared in his film Eden, about a day in the life of a homeless man.

“There is one actor I love working with in particular and that’s Sarah,” said Walsh, who played gangster Ian Kehoe in Fair City, and also played hardmen in Michael Inside and Love/Hate.

“Any time I make a film or do anything with film I ring Sarah. There’s nobody who can bring the levity out in a scene where someone has nobody.

“I needed somebody who could be alone, with no one to unburden themselves with. Someone who could carry these personal problems on her own and Sarah Carroll was the actor for it.”

Walsh said he received no funding for the film which he made with the help of friends and family. Three of Mary Murray’s children in the film are his own nieces, Abby, Thea and Paige Walsh.

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