The first time I watched The Magdalene Sisters, I was tired and half expected to fall asleep during it.
By the final credits, I was wide awake with outrage.
I was completely ignorant of the history of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries—institutions run by the Catholic Church for “wayward” girls.
As an audience, we learn about the laundry through the introduction of its three newest members:
Margaret is sent after she is brutally raped by her cousin. Bernadette—who has never kissed a boy, much less had sex with one—is kicked out of her orphanage for being too pretty and flirtatious. And Rose?
Well, she’s your garden variety unwed mother.
At the laundry, the head nun tells the girls:
“You can redeem yourself by working beyond human endurance to remove the stains of the sins you have committed.”
Their sins which were no sins at all.
Without the ability to leave, the girls are subjected to physical, emotional, and in some cases sexual abuse. They are forced to work in silence in the harsh conditions of the laundry. They receive no pay and no education. They are routinely humiliated and disobedience is punished with beatings or by forcibly shaving their heads. The word “whore” is constantly thrown at them, a weapon in and of itself.
We watch as a deep sense of injustice grows inside Margaret, and the scene when her brother arrives after four years is one of the most powerful in the film.
Rose suffers yet remains a Catholic—as many of the inmates did—until the end of her life.
And Bernadette survives by becoming as cruel and cunning as her captors.
The film is brutal and difficult to watch; but it exposes a stain on the Catholic Church that has been too long hidden. The final laundry did not close until 1996.
I will never forget the The Magdalene Sisters.
I promise you that.
This is part of my Movies I’m Grateful For series, running daily through the month of November.
Other films include: Splash | New Moon | The Lucky One | Thelma and Louise | Katy Perry: Part of Me | Crazy Rich Asians | Under the Tuscan Sun | Terminator 2 | Moulin Rouge! | How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days | Practical Magic | Schindler’s List | Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol | Stardust | The Man in the Moon | The Others | Little Women | Cruella | Sliding Doors | Far and Away |
Probably the best of Mullan’s three films as director. Orphans is good too, and Neds finished with a brilliant joke. He’s a talented guy!
Haven’t seen the other two films, but based on the strength of the Magdalene Sisters, I’d watch them. I think he walks the line quite nicely in the Magdalene Sisters – it always comes across as truthful, not exploitive of the real life victims.
I hadn’t heard of this, sounds harrowing.
Harrowing is exactly the right word….! If you want to summary in 3 minutes, Joni Mitchell wrote a song about the Magdalene laundries that more or less sums up the experiences depicted in the film.