The Magdalene Sisters

"Weak"

The Magdalene Sisters Review


Stirring up controversy for its depiction of Ireland's brutal, now-defunct Magdalene laundries for wayward girls, Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters muckrakes the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and comes off seeming self-righteous, gloomy, and redundant. Opening with young Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) getting raped at a family gathering by her cousin, followed by brash Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) cooing to boys in the schoolyard, and finally showing timid little Rose (Dorothy Duffy), whose illegitimate child is snatched away at the hospital, The Magdalene Sisters firmly and staunchly paints its victims into a corner and keeps them there. The parents hide their eyes in indifference or dismay, sending them into the cruel clutches of the incomparably cruel Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan) and her chamber of horrors--a prison run by nuns where beatings, canings, oppressive work conditions, and random cruelties are part of the daily routine.

There aren't any particular surprises in The Magdalene Sisters once the three heroines are locked away. Most sequences follow the same pattern, where the lank-haired, poorly fed, and half-clothed girls aspire for freedom, love, or fair treatment and are met with beatings and brutality. Lest there be any doubt of Sister Bridget's wicked witch nastiness, she's often seen counting her money and turning a blind eye to the random injustices within her makeshift girl's prison. Often compared with Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched, a more careful viewing of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest will reveal subtleties to the character that don't exist in the one-note tyrant, Sister Bridget.

As these girls whimper and pine away, Bernadette uses her feminine wiles as a way to potentially escape with the laundry boy while using bad girl sadism among her fellow inmates as a means of survival. Victimizing others while remaining a victim herself, Bernadette isn't particularly complex but breaks Magdalene's mood of downbeat, "nothing changes" misery. More compelling, and frustrating, is Margaret finding an unlocked door, an idyllic wide-open field, and an opportunity for escape, wavering in that moment of indecision. It's a rare visual moment where the girl's relationship to God, and her idea of God's punishment, is put to task. The tone of Magdalene feels so off, though, that this is followed by a painfully earnest and simplistic confrontation where one of the girls, a simpleton (Eileen Walsh), shrieks repeatedly at her minister-rapist, "You are not a man of God!" Meant to be cathartic, it merely plays false; the filmmaker's dream of momentary justice in an unjust world comes true.

While Mullan's kitchen sink directorial approach is steeped in grimy, lived-in naturalism, he lacks the defining features of other British filmmaker influences: Ken Loach's political zealotry, Mike Leigh's humanity, Alan Clarke's taste for the absurd, or Michael Winterbottom's cinematic zeal. He's competent, though he's unwilling to make bold artistic leaps (as he did in his previous film, Orphans, which was puerile but had some alarming fantasy sequences). The film stock, faded and parched as though it were found in the '70s, feels like an affectation more than a statement.

Sequences such as the one where the girls are stripped naked and paraded before the nuns so they can choose who have the finest bodies, meant to condemn social wrongs, feels vaguely exploitative. The question of whether Mullan is getting off on his own savagery is cast further into doubt by his cameo as an angry father who shows up one night, whips his daughter raw, then seethes to his young cast, "You're all whores." While it's interesting that he'd choose to present himself in a disparaging light, the moment also condemns him. The Magdalene Sisters is a torture-drone made for a noble cause, but one that seems to feed off of a twisted desire to observe pain for its own sake. And like many lectures on righteousness, it's also painfully dull.

The DVD includes an exposé documentary about the Magdalene Laundries.

Reviewed at the 2002 New York Film Festival.

Nunsense.



The Magdalene Sisters

Facts and Figures

Run time: 119 mins

In Theaters: Friday 25th October 2002

Box Office USA: $4.7M

Box Office Worldwide: $21M

Distributed by: Miramax Films

Production compaines: Film Council, Scottish Screen, Bórd Scannán na hÉireann

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 133 Rotten: 14

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Margaret, as Bernadette, as Crispina, Mary Murray as Una, as Rose, as Eamonn, as Sister Bridget, as Mr O'Connor, Britta Smith as Katy

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.