The Magdalene Sisters (2003)

Peter Mullan’s vein-bulgingly angry second feature dramatises the real-life reign of terror that, until shockingly recently, afflicted countless girls and young women in Ireland.

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Film details

Alternative titles

  • Magdalene Working
  • Magdalena Working

Introduction

“While there is occasional bitter humour and much to reflect on, its immediate effect is to arouse anger of the kind we experience when shown a totalitarian regime at work.”
Philip French, The Observer, 2003

When The Magdalene Sisters premiered at the Venice Film Festival it won the Golden Lion and loud condemnation by the Vatican. The latter decision backfired badly as it became a substantial hit in Italy, and when it opened in Ireland to even greater success the local Catholic Church opted to remain silent.

The film lays bare the workings of the so-called ‘Magdalene laundries’, in which ‘fallen women’ (often innocent girls who had done nothing more than flirtatiously catch a young man’s eye) were subjected to appalling mistreatment and slave-like conditions under a regime run by nuns who were often anything but the merciful sisters of popular repute. This would be horrific enough, but Mullan also vividly depicts the blind-eye complicity of Irish society as a whole: he himself cameos as an outraged father whose reaction to his daughter’s successful escape is to return her to her captors.

Mullan’s third feature NEDS (2010) offers a similarly ferocious indictment of Glasgow’s educational system. Angela’s Ashes (1999) is an equally grim portrait of growing up in mid-20th-century Ireland.

Cast & Credits

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