Magdalene Sisters, The
Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone
Directed By:
Peter Mullan

Without the obvious cliché conventions, The Magdalene Sisters is a dark, bleak, depressing film. It takes various real-life events in the Magdalene Laundry system, run by the Sisters of the Magdalene Order, and pulls them together into one location to drive home it's point. The Magdalene Laundry was one of a series of "homes" for loose or wayward women in the Catholic Church of Ireland during the 1960s. If a girl was thought to be of loose morals or had a child out of wedlock, they were ushered off to what became a brutal indentured servitude run by nuns, where the girls may never see the outside world. They were humiliated and forced to remove just about every aspect of their personality.

The main story follows a group of girls who find themselves in the home under different circumstances: Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) is raped by a family member and when she confides in her family, she's taken away to prevent further shame; Rose (Dorothy Duffy) is taken away after giving birth to a child out of wedlock; Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) is taken to the home just because she's pretty and flirts with the other boys in the orphanage she lives in. These girls meet other girls in similar situations, but make no mistake in thinking that they grow a camaraderie in the home - their lives are so strict and harshly maintained that any kind of fraternizing can only be done in what little privacy they can find.

The story and the way it's told is a severe showing of abuse and power mismanagement. Many of the character's show great psychological damage from their stay at the home. The degradation and bleak living standards leave even the viewer feeling desperate. In one sequence, some of the nuns make the girls strip down only to mock their about their bodies by "awarding" them for having large or small breasts, hips or the size of their pubic hair.

With a film like this, you can't judge it on production values like it's some big blockbuster. There are no frills here - the sets and costumes are bleak, bland and altogether appropriate. Where the strength of the film lies is in the wonderful script, fine direction and topnotch performances from every single actress (there's only a small handful of men in the story and they play minor roles). And, the acting isn't just wonderful, but bitterly poignant. Scenes that might even be remotely funny elsewhere (like the priest getting itching powder in his garb and having to strip down at a funeral) are still sad and a pain to view because of the events that lead to this moment of shame.

Along with the main feature, the DVD comes with a documentary on the woman which the story is based on. While this isn't a necessary view, I would suggest you watch it along with the film as it gives great depth to the characters and the story as a whole. The interviews with the real-life women who went through these horrors are hard to watch because of how the events had harmed them emotionally.

If you enjoy films about human tragedy and drama, this is a DVD you need to watch. It's a wonderful story that manages to avoid the sugary schmaltz that destroys the validity of most Hollywood dramas. If there ever was a story to signify the survival of the human spirit, this is it. This film may be a little too real for some, but anyone with a taste for drama will love it.

- - Vane

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