The Magdalene Sisters * * * * *

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Director: Peter Mullan.
Screenplay: Peter Mullan.
Starring: Geraldine McEwan, Nora-Jane Noone, Anne-Marie Duff, Dorothy Duffy, Eileen Walsh, Mary Murray, Britta Smith, Frances Healy, Rebecca Walsh, Eamonn Owens, Eithne McGuinness, Phyllis McMahon, Sean Mackin, Stephen McCole, Peter Mullan.

In 1998, writer/director Peter Mullan made his feature film debut with the blackly humorous, Scottish family drama “Orphans”. Four years later, he made his second feature and decided to drop any form of humour and surrealism and delivered this hard-hitting account of the agonising and torturous true-story of the abuse that young women in Ireland faced in the name of religion.

In the 1960′s, many young women are incarcerated in a Irish convent, run by the Catholic church. Charged for committing such wrong-doing as flirting with boys, becoming pregnant out of wedlock, and being raped, they’re personal nightmares didn’t end there as they are physically and psychologically abused by the head nun and her sadistic staff, who are convinced they are doing the Lord’s work.

Having based his screenplay on actual Magdalene inmates’ experiences, Mullan achieves an authenticity of what life was like for the young women that had to endure the injustices, humiliation and brutality of these asylums and doesn’t pull any punches in his depiction of the events. At times it’s very difficult to stomach, such is the sheer power and uncompromising telling of this harrowing story and he’s aided, immeasurably, by an overwhelmingly excellent cast. As Sister Bridget, the head nun, Geraldine McEwan gives a very memorable and chilling performance that’s reminiscent of Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” in it’s absolute personification of evil and Eileen Walsh is heart-breakingly compelling as the naive, downtrodden and religiously devoted Crispina. This is an actress that I haven’t seen since but she’s thoroughly deserving of more work and her performance was worthy of so much more recognition than she recieved. Speaking of which, the entire cast and crew deserved more awards attention on it’s release. It did receive numerous nominations and awards internationally, including a British Independent Film award for Ensemble Cast and The Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. However, it didn’t receive much recognition across the pond and had this been directed by someone with a higher profile than Mullan and his crew, this film would have been hailed as a masterpiece. As it is, it’s had to rely on word-of-mouth to find an audience but this doesn’t lessen the effect or superb work by everyone involved here. Mullan’s direction is flawless, the cinematography by Nigel Willoughby is stark, and almost de-saturated, adding to the overall feeling of desperation and loneliness of the women and as mentioned, the performances are perfectly pitched from the largely unknown cast.
It may be hard for some to accept this behaviour went on but it’s even harder to accept that these asylums lasted until 1996, when the last one was finally shut down.

A harrowing and emotionally charged drama that while based on fact, is highly subversive. If the Vatican condemns a film on it’s release (which it did with this) then there’s no doubt that you’re in for a hard-hitting film. Painful, provocative and very important filmmaking.

Mark Walker

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35 Responses to “The Magdalene Sisters * * * * *”

  1. I really want to see this film. I know a number of folk, including some film bloggers who take issue with its accuracy, but I’m undeterred. I came to hear about this reading Ken Bruen’s hardboiled Jack Taylor series and The Magadalene Martyrs novel. Thanks, Mark.

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    • I’ve heard a few people criticising it for it’s accuracy Michael but most have turned out to be staunch Catholics who refuse to accept that any wrongdoing went on. They’re entitled to their opinion but there was a lot of personal stories that apparently went into this.
      I hope you do see it, it’s a fantastic film and certainly deserving of more attention and the praise I give it.

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  2. Well shit. This is one of those movies you’d see the cover of every time you went to the video store, but never really think much past it. The cover always made me think it was some kind of rom-com, but whoa is this completely wrong. Great review Mark and I’m glad you brought it to my attention as the true film it is. I’ll have to check it out.

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    • Don’t let the cover fool you Nick. This is far from a rom-com. It’s an excellent film and one that you should pick off the shelf the next time you come across it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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  3. Interesting – never heard of it. Sounds… “challenging”…

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  4. 5 stars, nice! never seen it though, heard of it for sure, nice review and nice to see you being frequent Mark 😉

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  5. ray brayne Says:

    Great choice–great review. I didn’t know Peter Mullan the actor, was a writer, director. When I think of Scot actors he’s the first to pop up, probably because he always plays such a strong, gruff bastard. Can’t help but think he had a personal connection to the “Magdalene’s”. So powerful, it’s hard to believe it was happening just a few years ago. Exposing this and the church’s sex scandals, helped end the Catholic stranglehold on Ireland.
    One other note, the great Anna-Marie Duff also did a TV version called “Sinners” that showed the same year(2002). A lot of women still coming forward to tell the nightmares they had at the hands of the Magdalenes.

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    • Cheers Ray. Glad to hear you’re a fan too.

      Yeah, Mullan has done 3 films films as a writer/director. His first was “Orphans”, then this, and his third was “Neds” (which I’ll hopefully post a review of tomorrow).

      Didn’t know about “Sinners”. I’ve never heard of that but if its in the same league as this then I’ll be checking it out. Such a powerful movie.

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  6. Nice review. I haven’t seen or heard of this film, but I’ll try to check it out.

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    • Thanks man! I highly recommend it. It’s sad that films of this calibre tend not to make much of an impact across the pond. You guys can miss out on some good stuff. Have a look, though, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on it.

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  7. Very nicely done Mark. This is a brilliant film. Not an easy watch at all, but so compelling and one that really makes you want to see what happens to these women. And the fact that it’s all based on true accounts just makes it hit home that bit more when you stop and think about it.

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    • Cheers Chris. It always nice to hear that this film hasn’t passed everyone by. Glad to hear you’ve seen and liked it. It’s grim, heart-wrenching stuff, but important and brilliantly delivered.

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  8. Nice review man, I’m going to have to bundle this one up with NEDS and have a Peter Mullan night. Maybe I’ll throw in Tyrannosaur too for a rewatch.

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    • You could do a lot worse than those three for a good trilogy. Bare in mind that Neds and The Magdalene Sisters don’t feature Mullan very much. He does appear but in brief roles. He’s concentrating more on the directing side of things. If you want to do a whole trilogy of the three films he’s written and directed, then check out “Orphans”. That was his directorial debut.

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  9. Great review Mark, I need to see it as I’ve heard some very positive things about it.

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  10. 5 stars, and I’ve never even heard of it! Another one I’m gonna have to seek out… Good job, Mark.

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    • I’ll be honest, I dithered with top marks, Garrett, but it’s nothing less that 4.5. Eventually I went the whole way with it. It’s powerful stuff. You should definitely stick it on your list.

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  11. I LOVE this film. Great post. The scene getting back at the abusive priest with the itching weed was brilliant.

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    • Glad to hear it, Cindy. I’m always happy to hear when people have seen this film. That scene you mention is top class. Just love it.
      Thanks for dropping in. 🙂

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      • Please stop by and see if you like my recent film posts?
        You might like “Vertigo vs. The Machinist” and I just posted one today about a German foreign film.
        Cheers! 🙂

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      • I’ll most certainly swing by, Cindy. I’ve been taking a little time off from blogging recently but I’ll be sure to head over. Thanks again.

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  12. Great review of one of the most gut wrenching films I’ve ever seen. In fact, this is one of the few movies I’ve seen once, highly appreciated, but plan on never watching again. So intense.

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    • Thanks Alex. It certainly is grim. There’s no doubt about that. It’s such a powerful and harrowing movie that I completely understand you having sat through it only once. Still, it deserves to be sat through at least that. Excellent movie that I hope those that haven’t seen it, check it out.

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  13. […] fair share of laugh-out-loud lines. It’s similar in subject matter to Peter Mullen’s excellent The Magdelene Sisters but comes at it from a much more light-hearted (but no less heart-wrenching) angle. This humour is […]

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  14. Reblogged this on oogenhand.

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