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Overall Rating
4.44

Awesome61.64%
Worth A Look: 30.14%
Average: 1.37%
Pretty Bad: 4.11%
Total Crap: 2.74%

5 reviews, 43 user ratings


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Magdalene Sisters, The
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by Collin Souter

"Not just 'The Magdalene Redemption'"
4 stars

I’m sure I have made note of this before, but over the past few years since the passing of 2000, many cultures and countries outside the U.S. have been going through a period of self-examination through their films. Many movies from outside the U.S. that make it to our shores have been questioning the customs and marriage practices that have been dominating their culture. Last year alone, Iran had “Late Marriage” while India had “Monsoon Wedding,” and of course there was that little Greek Wedding movie you may have heard about. All of them questioning the values of arranged marriages and ethnicity. While some countries have been examining their present, other countries have been re-examining their past as a way of cleaning the slate and starting anew.

Ireland, whether it knows it or not, seems to be in a period of self-reflection. After last year’s “Bloody Sunday”—which chronicled January 30, 1972, the day a deadly riot broke out in Northern Ireland during a peaceful protest—we now get “The Magdalene Sisters,” a brutal and tragic story of three women (not sisters) who have been taken away from their homes because they have either been raped, have had children out of wedlock or have been seen as being too flirty around the boys. They get put into a correctional institution where there doesn’t seem to be much of an escape. They work in laundries and are beaten mercilessly by the tyrannical nuns that run the place.

This is based on true events that happened decades ago and have been going on as late as 1996. The movie starts out by showing us how our three main protagonists, strangers to each other, fall victim to this ordeal. At a marriage reception, Margaret (Ann-Marie Duff) gets raped by her cousin, and in a brilliantly conceived and edited show of nothing but whispers without words, the story gets seemingly turned around. Margaret becomes the victim twice over when her family sentences her to the Magdalene convents.

Rose (Dorothy Duffy, who often resembles Kate Winslet) has just had a child out of wedlock. A priest coldly offers up the idea of letting the child be put up for adoption so that it wouldn’t have to go through life paying for the sins of an unwed mother. Rose reluctantly agrees, then completely changes her mind after signing the papers. Meanwhile, Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) gets spotted looking a little too flirtatious with some of the boys at school. Aware that vanity, not beauty, is a sin, Bernadette becomes guilty of a crime she never committed. The two get sent to the Magdalene convent to repent for their sins.

The movie turns into a prison film of sorts as we get to know other inmates, including Crispina (Eileen Walsh), an emotionally unstable woman who keeps a smile plastered on her face as much as possible while she clings desperately to her necklace—her Saint Christopher—for comfort. The movie’s lead tyrant, Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan), gives quiet, pinching sermons to her prisoners when speaking in her chambers while also lashing out at anyone caught being disobedient. We sometimes wonder about the possibility of any of the girls appealing to her good graces.

We also wonder when the three main characters (or four of you count Crispina) will band together and revolt. Scottish writer/director Peter Mullan makes it clear that in this prison, it’s every woman for herself. Rose does the best she can by helping Crispina cope with her illness, but not without some tension from Bernadette, who tries to use a delivery boy’s sexual come-ons to her advantage as a means of escape. These women have no means of escape and their spirits have been deadened to the point where suicide becomes a logical means to a kind of freedom.

The story of “The Magdalene Sisters” may seem like easy pickings for an emotional gut-wrencher with hope, a la “The Shawshank Redemption,” but the story seems to have more of a purpose than that. The movie doesn’t try to condemn the Catholic church altogether, nor to use this as an excuse to exemplify the recent scandals involving it, but to chronicle a dark part of Irish history before someone else comes along and exploits it. It also serves as a religious self-examination of sorts, a conversational starting point on the essence of sin and how it may have been misinterpreted throughout the centuries. Most of all, though, it is not about the prison, but about the women who endured it and, if they were lucky enough, survived it. (It is estimated that 30,000 women died as prisoners in these convents)

Mullen uses music sparingly, often letting dead silence convey the horror. Many scenes flow in and out with little to no dialogue. He doesn’t flinch from the brutality that existed within the convent, but he also knows when to hold back. The simple close-up shot of a battered, bloody eye carries enough power in and of itself to give us an idea of the pain, torture and humility these women endured. The entire cast give brilliant performances across the board, especially Geraldine McEwan, whose first encounter with the three girls has an alternately scary, gentle and sinister tone to it.

I took a trip to Ireland about a year ago and some of the people I met there gave the impression that the country did not want to continue with some of its old ways. Though always mindful of its past, the grudges and hatred toward the British seem to have gotten tiresome and it seemed like a country optimistic toward the future (even if immigration has been getting out of control). “Bloody Sunday” and “The Magdalene Sisters” don’t come off as optimistic, but rather as an almost cathartic acceptance of responsibility. “Bloody Sunday” didn’t lay all its blame on the British and “Magdalene Sisters” doesn’t lay all its blame entirely on the Catholic church. In the end, everyone should except part of the blame, but it doesn’t have to ruin anybody’s way of life.

Movies have a way of getting groups, organizations and entire cultures to re-think and re-examine history as a means of understanding the present. I have no doubt that events such as the ones depicted in “Magdalene Sisters” continue to exist in some form or another out there in the world. Scandals in the priesthood both in America and abroad have been at the forefront of the sex-obsessed media as of late, but if the media wants to play it up because it’s “juicy,” as long as it brings about change, so much the better. And if people flock to see a brilliant piece of work such as “The Magdalene Sisters” and use it as a lesson for themselves or for future generations, that whole “New Millennium” namesake might actually mean something after all.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7415&reviewer=233
originally posted: 08/20/03 14:26:08
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/15/08 PAUL SHORTT HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE, OFFENSIVE TRIPE 1 stars
4/21/07 action movie fan lacks the punch that boys of st vincent had 2 stars
2/28/07 Beau great performances, but it was too cliched olden times!! not my fortae 2 stars
7/20/06 Sarah Unbelievable movie best I've seen in ages 5 stars
2/21/06 Jen Chilling, disturbing, infuriating. 5 stars
8/21/05 bigbill catholocism, irish-a horrible mixture of ignorance and cruelty 5 stars
6/09/05 Jeanne Horrifying. These women had NO RIGHTS in their own country. All the actors were BRILLIANT. 5 stars
6/07/05 Kyence Simply incredible film. The horror is mesmerizing, forcing one to see it to the bitter end. 5 stars
4/01/05 Elly This movie was BRILLIANT! Leaves you speechless. Takes your breath away. Absolutly amazing. 5 stars
10/16/04 Tam Deeply moving film with sublime performances. You won't stop thinking about it for ages. 5 stars
7/20/04 Taylor Fladgate "Midnight Express", Irish Catholic style. 5 stars
3/15/04 Sarkofuck Great movie 5 stars
3/04/04 Thom Saw months ago...still haunts me 5 stars
10/01/03 Jinnvisible A reminder that cruelty is still at large in small minds ,,, well acted harrowing drama 4 stars
9/16/03 john i liked it 5 stars
9/05/03 mary natale mothers and fathers beating and abandoning their precious daughters in the name of god. 5 stars
9/04/03 limerick Unbelievable acting. May the evil doers(nuns or priests) rot in hell 5 stars
9/03/03 Angie Heart The power of this (true life) heartbreaker was diminished by over-the-top direction. 3 stars
9/01/03 Talisha Hunt Enlightening, and moving film. I thought nors jane noone was captivating as a temptress. 5 stars
8/27/03 Zwee I like this film. 5 stars
8/27/03 Jesse I can't stop thinking about it 5 stars
8/26/03 N. Rosen Timely and extraordinarily thought provoking; fabulous performances 5 stars
8/21/03 S. Scallan A very good, necessary film on a subject long hidden and ignored. 5 stars
8/16/03 Sly Massa Great Film 5 stars
8/14/03 becky the best film i've ever seen in my entire life 5 stars
8/04/03 blinky most brilliant filmny n 5 stars
7/29/03 Edgar nora-jane noone, I loved you!!! 5 stars
7/26/03 raed it is very sexy 2 stars
7/19/03 gringoyo Brave screenplay, editing Nora-Jane Noone is going to go places 4 stars
7/08/03 n great 5 stars
7/02/03 ilicit easyly one of the best moives ive seen this year 5 stars
6/18/03 brad USA GO SEE THIS MOVIE IN AUG 2003 5 stars
6/11/03 Rocky I seen this movie and I hated it! It rips off "the hours"! Blam this piece of shit!! 1 stars
5/21/03 M HARKNESS VERY THOUGHT PROVOKING 5 stars
5/18/03 Judith Mac Mullan A tuching movie and proof that the clergy are as rotten & evil as the next person!!! 5 stars
4/30/03 karen boone thought provoking, incredibly hard to understand the extrent of reality 4 stars
4/28/03 Ingo Very gripping movie, but sometimes too foreseeable... 4 stars
4/25/03 ALEX These stories need to be told - so that it never happens again 5 stars
4/22/03 Trish Move over Colin Farrel - Chris Simpson as Brendan in the Magdalene Sisters ouses sex appeal 5 stars
4/22/03 kyree it's touching, and has a very strong story 5 stars
4/19/03 John Bale OUTSTANDING. Finely crafted and acted, with suspense pathos and human spirit. Don't Miss ! 5 stars
4/17/03 mr. Pink Will be seen as one of the best of 2003. Institutionalized religions: AAAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!! 5 stars
4/08/03 Zwee U better watch it!! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  01-Aug-2003 (R)
  DVD: 23-Mar-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  17-Apr-2003




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