Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director's commentary; Two short films
by Peter Mullan: 'Fridge' and 'Close'; Cast auditions footage;
Audio descriptive track; Trailer.
AT the start of Peter Mullans controversial, but award-winning,
The Magdalene Sisters, a woman is raped at a wedding by her cousin.
But far from being supported by her family in the aftermath of
the attack, she is shunned and sent away to the refuge
of the Catholic Church in a bid to find repentance.
The same treatment is dealt out to a young mother, who has given
birth out of wedlock, and to a pretty young temptress, merely
because it is felt that her blossoming good looks may undermine
All are sent to one of The Magdalene Asylums run by the Sisters
of Mercy on behalf of the Catholic Church, where they are forced
to work 364 days a year, unpaid, half-starved, beaten and humiliated.
Their sentence was indefinite and was largely dependent on whether
they were rescued by family members or successful in their bid
Thousands of women lived and died there, and the last laundry
closed in 1996.
Mullans film, a Golden Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival
2002, has been condemned by the Vatican Church, which described
its narrative as clearly false, but has won many friends
in film circles for its superb direction and quality of performances.
Its director claims the film is based on true events
and challenged the Vatican to face up to its past and the cruelty
dished out by nuns in Irish asylums, stating that he was not imaginative
enough to dream up such scandals.
But whatever the debate surrounding the work, there is no denying
the films power, or its emotional intensity, or the fact
that it has succeeded in highlighting the plight of countless
young women who were sent to work in the Magdalene laundries.
Anne-Marie Duff, Dorothy Duffy and Nora-Jane Noone star as the
three women in question, who are sent to an asylum presided over
by Geraldine McEwans formidable Sister Bridget, a profits-fixated
nun who is not afraid to use intimidation to bully her women into
The ensuing couple of hours chronicles their attempts to come
to terms with their situation, make friends with those around
them and, eventually, to escape - all the while mindful of the
suffering they will endure should they fail to adhere to the rules,
or be caught.
And it is tough stuff indeed, fuelled by some excellent performances,
and Mullans tight direction, which lends an air of trepidation
to proceedings, whenever the women step out of line.
The veteran McEwan, especially, leaves a lasting impression as
the chilling Sister Bridget, a strict disciplinarian, prone to
moments of self-doubt, whose outwardly quiet demeanour belies
the worst kind of monster, while the likes of Duff and Noone do
a fine job in depicting the hopelessness of their situation.
Noone, in particular, is on terrific form as the feisty former
temptress, whose happy-go-lucky spirit quickly becomes quashed
by the climate of fear created by the nuns, while audiences are
likely to find themselves cheering along when she mounts a final
bid for freedom.
Yet Mullans film is far more than just a Shawshank Redemption-style
countdown to a feelgood escape, given that it sets out to expose
the hitherto forgotten suffering endured by thousands of women
for too long. It is an uncompromising, and occasionally harrowing,
insight into a social injustice which succeeds through its raw
style alone. See it.