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The Magdalene Sisters - Review

Slave Labor for the Catholic Church

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By Marcy Dermansky

Magdalene Sisters

Locked-Up Lass: Nora-Jane Noone in her first film role as Bernadette

"The Magdalene Sisters" is a bold, shocking and powerful film. Through the fictional stories of three Irish girls, Peter Mullins ("Orphans") recreates a shameful period in history that has been hushed up for decades. The film will reduce you to quivering in your seat; if you are susceptible to crying at films, prepare to cry.
Up until the 1960s, Catholic girls accused of "moral crimes" against society were sent to work in laundries to atone for their sexual sins. These asylums, known as the Magdalene Asylums, were virtual prisons for what is estimated to be roughly 30,000 innocent young Irish women. Abandoned by their families, they often served life-terms, performing slave labor for the Catholic Church, toiling in abysmal conditions, and suffering mental, physical, and sexual abuse from the nuns and priests who were supposedly responsible for the inmates spiritual reformation.

The three girls who shape the narrative of the film are Margaret, Rose, and Bernadette. Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) is raped by her cousin at a wedding and makes the mistake of telling her family. Rose (Dorothy Duffy) has given birth to an illegitimate child. Orphan Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) is extraordinarily pretty; the young girls at the orphanage want to brush her hair, and local boys try to flirt with her. These are the girls' "crimes." They are sent to the Magadelene Ayslums on the same day.

We watch them slowly comprehend the horror of their fate, and as the years pass, they adjust to the horrific reality of their lives at the asylum.
The varying ways these women cope with their circumstances –- from mental breakdowns to wielding heavy golden candelabras at the heads of cowering nuns -- is fascinating.

The actresses' performances ring painfully true. Even celebrated English actress Geraldine McEwan is able to endow the otherwise sinister nun Sister Bridgit with humanity. The film was shot on location in Scotland, as the controversial nature of the subject made it impossible to shoot in Ireland.
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