The Magdalene Sisters
4 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
the magdalene sisters Scottish actor-director Mullan (Orphans) courts quite a lot of controversy with this seriously intense drama set in 1964 Ireland. Basically it follows three young women--Margaret, Bernadette and Rose (Duff, Noone and Duffy)--who are carted off to a convent for less-than-upstanding behaviour. But the Magdalene order is more like a prison in which the girls are brutally indentured slaves doing laundry to increase the purses of the Church. All of them want out, but the situation is fairly hopeless, especially since the top-nun Sister Bridget (McEwan) seems to second-guess their every move.

You can see why the film has created a scandal; it's about a period of time and a social system no one would ever want to acknowledge, rather like Rose's parents refusal to even look at her newborn son (Margaret's "crime" is to have been raped at a family wedding, while Bernadette was just too flirty, so the boys needed protection from her). All of the acting is genuine and transparent, never falling into stereotypes. Mullan films with such artistry and skill that we're almost taken aback when real life horror invades the story. We can barely comprehend the stone-faced, stone-hearted nuns. The irony of the words "God Is Just" aren't lost on us. And perhaps this is a slight problem: While the characters are rounded enough to be real people (no one's perfect, no one's pure evil), the film is quite clearly on the anti-catholic side of things. It vividly shows that the twisted morality of the established Church corrupts innocent minds, like sane people going mad inside an asylum (which we see later, just in case we missed the parallel). But it's the sheer powerlessness of these women in their society that is most frightening. This awful helplessness and manipulation is more shocking, really, than a sex-mad priest or a nun who cruelly beats a girl even though she clearly knows it's the wrong thing to do. The film is forceful, perhaps a bit too tidy, but thoroughly accessible, moving and ultimately devastating stuff.

cert 15 themes, violence, language, nudity 21.Oct.02 lff

dir-scr Peter Mullan
with Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, Eileen Walsh, Mary Murray, Britta Smith, Frances Healy, Chris Simpson, Eithne McGuinness, Eamonn Owens, Peter Mullan
release UK 21.Feb.03; US 1.Aug.03
02/UK 1h59

Induction. Rose, Bernadette and Margaret are marched into Sister Bridget's office on their first day at the laundry...


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R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... the magdalene sisters Irene, Estonia: "I got a real shock after seeing this film. Although I have heard a lot of awfulnesses happened in this world, but a shock was that these things happened nowadays in Europe. We have been living in the world of men, but what is more shocking, that women and mothers allow and allowed to happen all this as if the men and sons are Gods. Thanks to actor-director Mullan, who created this film to show this rudeness to the whole world." (9.Dec.02)

Leanne Dillon, Dublin: 5 out of 5 stars "This is a great film and shows in a way how these girls were treated, but I believe it was much worse for them. Some scenes in the film didn't actually happen, but I do say fair play to the actors. It was truly brilliant." (13.Nov.03)

the magdalene sisters Erin Large, Ireland: 4.5/5 "in itself it is a magnificent, brilliant film. i am 14 and have soared through films like no one i know. and these films, including conspiracy of silence and song for a raggy boy are such absolutely heart-moving films. i cry for hours every time i watch these films. brilliant." (7.May.04)

Caroline Ravenel Wilson-Sabates, Charlotte, North Carolina: 5/5 "What a profound affect this imensly powerful film had on my life and my sense of purpose! I am compelled to help my fellow man avoid the horrific injustices that occur worldwide in the name of their God or some perverse, self-serving purpose." (23.May.04)

2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall