THE MAGDALENE SISTERS
Ireland (Ire/UK) 2002 : Peter MULLAN : 119 mins
The Magdalene Sisters is a powerful expose of how the Irish Catholic church for decades shockingly mistreated of women placed in their ‘care.’ ‘Magdalene’ convents – the last of which closed as recently as 1996 – were in effect religious workhouses, their hapless inmates (supposedly “fallen women”) kept in line by cruel nuns and forced to toil long (unpaid) hours in the laundry. Mullan’s mid-60s-set film follows four typical (but fictional) Magdalene girls, rapidly developing into a religious-tinged variant on the well-worn prison genre of movies like Escape From Alcatraz, complete with a terrifyingly cruel ‘governor’ (Geraldine McEwan’s Sister Bridget) and a victimised character so sympathetic and hapless they’re clearly doomed.
There’s no doubting the sincerity and anger burning that powers every scene The Magdalene Sisters, and the performances are uniformly strong, with especially convincing work from McEwan and Nora-Jane Noone as the most rebellious of her ‘charges’. But while very engaging and often harrowing as a (melo)drama, The Magdalene Sisters is less satisfactory in terms of analysis or as a contribution to current debate. What is Mullan saying with this film? – ‘Look how backward Ireland was in 1964′, or perhaps ‘The Catholic Church was corrupt, cruel and hypocritical.’ Not much of a revelation, either way.
25th February, 2003 (seen 24th February, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle)
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