The Magdalene Sisters

The Magdalene Sisters


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

This year's Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Magdalene Sisters is the grim tale of young women taken from their families to be institutionalised and, in some cases, separated from their own babies. It also saves its fiercest punch for the very end, supplying the background to its true story. It features strong, impressive performances from several new actresses (and from the redoubtable Geraldine McEwan), though its greatest strength is as an ensemble piece. There are other significant characters besides the three girls whose stories we follow from beginning to end.

The Sisters of the title were an order of nuns devoted to the care and redemption of wayward girls - or, looking at it another way, an order which exploited the unpaid labour of its charges for its own financial gain. If the film has a weakness, it's that it concentrates too strongly on the latter interpretation, leaving little room for exploration of the moral perspective of those who believed in what the Sisters were doing, including (presumably) some of the parents who sent their daughters there.

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Whilst one can sympathise with this omission, considering the horrific experiences of some of the girls, it does create a curious imbalance in the face of the accusations being made. The actual story, however, is well told, and well balanced between horror and the brief moments of humour which kept the girls going. One particularly disturbing scene, which some of the audience found shocking, involves the psychological sexual abuse of several of the girls. It's rare to see any film brave enough to depict this so starkly, and it comes across as much more genuine because of it. A proper explanation of the bullying tactics used to break down the girls' will is essential to explaining why they don't make more drastic attempts to run away.

No doubt this film will be of great importance to those thousands of women who had similar experiences in their youth. It does its job well, and makes interesting viewing for anyone, even if it is necessarily limited in scope. People who read newspapers will not find many revelations here, but it's worth seeing nonetheless.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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Story of the Catholic convents where Irish girls were sent in response to an assortment of social transgressions.
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Read more The Magdalene Sisters reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Peter Mullan

Writer: Peter Mullan

Starring: Geraldine McEwan, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, Eileen Walsh, Mary Murray, Britta Smith, Phyllis McMahon, Eamonn Owens, Chris Simpson, Sean Colgan

Year: 2002

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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