From the YouTube Movie Archives III: The Magdalene Sisters

Much, much better than I thought it would be, The Magdalene Sisters is a powerful story about four young women who have been carried off to Magdalene Asylums (called Magdalene Laundries in Ireland) after being scapegoated as “fallen women”. One girl, Rose (played by Dorothy Duffy) has been forced to give up her child for adoption and is then sent to the asylum. This is also the case for Harriet (Eileen Walsh), who is at least able to see her son from time when her sister brings him to a gate outside the yard where she hangs clothes. Later, she will try to hang herself. Almost incredibly, although it surely must have happened, Bernadette (Nora Jane Noone) is sent away to the asylum for merely responding to the flirtatious advances of boys outside the gate of the orphange where she lives. Even more incredibly, although it surely must have happened as well, Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) is shipped off by her Da after being raped by a cousin at a wedding.

The movie begins as a character piece in the style of a documentary, and then turns into a kind of suspense thriller towards the end as the girls plot their escape. While I enjoyed the first part more, it’s also true that it could have been even more interesting if they had developed the personality of the Mother Superior, Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan); as it is, she comes off as little more than a cartoon villain. Of course, there often is a cartoonish aspect to real-life villains, so maybe that isn’t a fair criticism. As the movie shifted from character piece to social commentary to escape thriller, I found myself wishing the story would slow down, and despite the mixing of genres, something still seemed to be missing. At least for me. On the other hand, there’s simply no basis for the charge that the film is a kind of broadside against the Catholic Church, although many have probably been happy to see it that way. Revelations about the history of the Magdalene Asylums is so bleak and disturbing that these prisons really do warrant the torrent of recent denunciations from all quarters. You can read a short article about the launderies at the Wikipedia entry. Here also is a good article about problems in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

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