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The Magdalene Sisters
2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Peter Mullan

Written By:
Peter Mullan

Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Mary Murray, Britta Smith, Geraldine McEwan, Eamonn Owens, Eileen Walsh, Chris Simpson, Dorothy Duffy, Frances Healy, Eithne McGuinness, Phyllis MacMahon, Rebecca Walsh, Sean Colgan, Daniel Costello

The Magdalene Sisters (2002)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
March 12th, 2008

As if the Catholic Church did not have enough dirty secrets, 'The Magdalene Sisters' divulges one more, this time from the depths of church-run laundry facilities in Ireland, where young girls were sent by their parents to atone for their sins. Peter Mullan's powerful, harrowing film introduces us to three girls, Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff), Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone), and Rose (Dorothy Duffy), who are all forsaken by their families because of their perceived sexual crimes. Margaret is raped by a relative at a wedding, but is then disbelieved; if she is not denounced as a liar and a wh*re, then the rape is entirely her fault. Bernadette is in an orphanage, and is caught flirting with some boys or at least lingering near the fence longer than everyone else while as the boys throw out catcalls at her. Rose has a baby out of wedlock; she wants to keep him, but her parents and the family priest force her to give him up for adoption. The facility is run by Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan), a sadistic nun who employs excessive and harsh corporal punishment and presides over an equally depraved staff that, in one particularly revolting scene, has some of the girls stand naked to determine who has the largest and smallest breasts and the most pubic hair. Bernadette and Margaret are both rebellious and independent-minded, and are willing to resist a fate that by any measure would be worse than hell. Rose is more complacent, but is eventually emboldened to join Bernadette in her planned escape attempt; her first one fails badly and she suffers the consequences. There is also Crispina (Eileen Walsh), who also has a child, currently in the care of her sister. Crispina is in the care of the sisters presumably because she is mentally challenged and would, in the outside world, become easy prey for men. Her fate is indicative of many others who were either retarded or mentally ill and confined to asylums or worse simply to remove them from society at large. Margaret takes pity on Crispina, and slips poison ivy into the underclothing of the priest who is sexually molesting her. The movie was criticized and even condemned by the Catholic League, which could not under any circumstances refute its factuality, confirmed by a number of Irish news stories following the closing of the last facility in 1996. Interestingly, many of the girls, like Rose, remained devout Catholics for the rest of their lives.

Mullan is not exactly targeting Catholicism or Christianity exclusively, but rather the fanatical and overzealous mindset that can lead, in any religion, to the types of outrages and atrocities depicted in this film. Some have quite rightly pointed out the capacity for deviance and evil that lies dormant within those who have been sexually repressed, like Muslim men who are taught to avoid women and spend their whole lives in a state of mandatory virginity, and likewise nuns and priests who have sworn to take oaths of celibacy, yet cannot fight their natural sexual urges and thus end up preying on the helpless children they have authority over. If anything, it shows the hypocrisy of organized religion and the Catholic hierarchy, which tries to regulate sexuality and impose morality, on others and not necessarily themselves. 'The Magdalene Sisters' is a disturbing and compelling drama, with excellent performances, especially from McEwan, but also from the three main female leads (notable among those is Nora-Jane Noone).

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