Title: The Magdalene Sisters
Country: Ireland, UK
Language: English, Latin
Director/Writer: Peter Mullan
Music: Craig Armstrong
Cinematography: Nigel Willoughby
Scotland-born triple-threat (director, writer and actor) Peter Mullan’s Venice GOLDEN LION champion, his second directorial endeavor, THE MAGDALENE SISTERS is a scathing exposé charts the story of three “fallen” girls’ harrowing experiences in the notorious Magdalene Asylum in the 60s Ireland, where Roman Catholic church reigns with draconian measures to suppress women under the name of redeeming their sins.
Before its title card duly arrives, the film briefly introduces the sins of our three protagonists, Margaret (Duff), is raped by her cousin during a family wedding, Bernadette (Noone), an adolescent orphan deemed as a temptress simply because she flirts with a bunch of hormone-driven lads, and Rose (Duffy), a girl has just borne an out-of-wedlock infant. So burdened with these egregious injustice, they are sent to the asylum by their parents or caretakers, which is in fact a laundry run by nuns and governed by Sister Bridget (McEwan) with high-handed cruelty, in her first appearance Mullan conspicuously implies that God is definitely not her priority.
Different personalities of these three girls are soberly singled out in their following dark days: Bernadette, the young rebellious one, learns a hard lesson after a failed escape plan, botched in the eleventh hour by her craven accomplice, a man of course, and becomes more cynical to her fellow inmates hereafter, Noone, a headstrong starlet strikes with a piquant weight of strength and endurance; Margaret, is more flexible and sagacious among the gals, bears patiently her sufferings in exchange for a triumphant exit, and Duff nails her heroic facade wonderfully, she is the one, who voluntarily gives up a golden chance of escaping, and pulls through her trails and tribulations with a heartfelt declamation when she can face the God’s men and challenge their muted consent of such atrocity; Duffy, uncannily resembles a young Joanne Woodward, her Rose is the meek sheep among the crop, offers a more subdued presence of forbearance and motherly nature.
There is another victim here in the spotlight, whose fate is manifestly far less fortunate, to countervail the aforementioned three’s ultimate salvation from the pit, Eileen Walsh plays Crispina, a mentally unstable unmarried mother, whose bob hairstyle doesn’t match her bucktoothed features, but what happens to her encapsulates the appalling and despicable crimes those clergymen and nuns can ever inflicted on innocent souls under the aegis of the supremacy of God, no religion can ever account for those kinds of transgressions. Walsh courageously transforms a stunning performance out of Eileen’s misery, her repeated, plangent bellow of truth is soul-shattering to say the least. Last but definitely not the least, the veteran British thespian, Geraldine McEwan, whose cinematic offerings are not so frequent, but here, she devotes herself wholeheartedly to bring about a daunting impersonation of an evil nun, driven by the monetary income, she is merciless to harness those helpless women while maintaining a holy-than-thou face of authority and patronization, only in the heightened crunch, her instinct tellingly betrays that there is something more important to her than her piousness to God.
Overall, this clammy, unadorned survival drama is a gripping nay-sayer of God-aweful religious abuse in our recent history, Mullan, most of the time, holds his sway over the thorny subject matter and never descends to levity, only in the scenes of Bernadette and Rose’s final attempt to break out of their imprisonment, Mullan slickly transmits a whiff of comedy and triumphalism into their act, which works well to purvey an uplifting coda, yet, in another instance, two nuns obnoxiously tease about the sizes of their prisoners’ breasts and their public hair, is just too nauseating to concur with Mullan’s relentless opprobrium, nevertheless, this well-orchestrated film again emphatically attests the same old maxim: real life is so much worse than what happens in a movie.