One of 2003's more intriguing films is The Magdalene Sisters, a dramatic true story about three girls that are sent to work as slaves in the Magdalene Sisters Asylum. More specifically, it is a story of religious intolerance and psychological survival.
The Magdalene Sisters looks at the lives of a few girls that are sentenced to work under the guidance of Sister Bridget, a nun that has been transformed from God's child into a wicked creature that truly believes that she is doing God's work. Sister Bridget believes that the young women that come to work in the laundries can pay for their sins through strenuous labor, so that they may be saved in the after life - but what about their current lives? As she makes a profit, the girls work in servitude, which leads to breakdown and fragility.
This film, directed by Peter Mullan, is the latest piece that criticizes some of the backward ways of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has come under a lot of scrutiny for various things in the last few years, and The Magdalene Sisters looks with severe criticism and disgust at the way the church treated some young women only 30 years ago. All of the girls in the laundries were regarded as whores and sinners, yet one, Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone), was placed in there for only looking at boys the way teenage girls do, another, Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff), because she was raped by her cousin, and yet another, Rose (Dorothy Duffy), for having a child out of wedlock. In response to their "horrible acts," they were placed in what essentially is a prison - with no guarantee as to when, and if, they would be released.
The movie is graced with fine actors, all of whom give very powerful and believable performances. Two of the actors - Noone and Duffy - have never appeared in a film before. The standout performance belongs to that of Eileen Walsh, who plays Crispina; she is one of the many girls that did not make it out of the laundries with her sanity. Noone has the most interesting of characters, as she is the most strong-willed yet confused girl.
Technically, The Magdalene Sisters is shot perfectly. Though not overpowering, the movie rarely moves out of the somber grays and browns that seem to be associated with a lot of films set in Ireland. Only when the girls step outside of the walls of the laundries does the setting lighten up. Peter Mullan has a beautiful film to his name.
Though a hard core drama, The Magdalene Sisters never loses its pace. It is always interesting and always compelling; as the film rolls along, the tension between the girls (Bernadette, especially) and the nuns increases. Unfortunately, as with most real life events, the film doesn't end quite like the audience would like; by the end, it would have been great to see Sister Bridget fully confronted with her evil deeds. Nonetheless, the storytelling ability is fabulous and makes for one of the more engaging films of last year (or for the Irish, 2002).
There are few flaws with The Magdalene Sisters. Some people may not appreciate two hours of somberness that does not amount to the climax that would be ideal, but it is a riveting true story that should not be overlooked.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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