Magdalene Sisters, The

This film won the ‘Golden Lion’ at the Filmfestival of Venice. Don’t watch it when you want a feel-good movie! The Magdalene Sisters is a grim, realistic portrayal of the life in the Irish catholic convents of the ‘Sisters of Mercy’. It is inspired by a Channel 4 documentary of a few years ago, which first brought this subject matter to the attention of the general public. Young girls were brought here who for some reason were regarded as ‘sinners’ and now have to do penance. In the movie, which is situated in Dublin in 1964, you follow a few young girls, each struggling with the harsh daily convent life. They have to live extremely sober, with strict discipline and hard labour in the laundry, under tyrannic guard of the sisters, who seem to enjoy their power (and the money they make with the laundry).

No contact with the outside world is allowed. Of course a perfect environment for abuses, like the sexual favours that the priest demands of a simple-minded girl. When this practice comes to the light she is sent to a mental hospital. Of course the girls want to get out of this medieval nightmare, especially Bernadette, who shows a lot of fighting spirit… The escape scene is perhaps a bit too incredible.

The story would be perfect for an overly moral or sentimental story, but it does not fall into this trap. This is partly due to the naturalistic style and fragmentary, claustrophobic way of filming. Perhaps the contrast between the tortured girls and the evil nuns is a bit cliche, but perhaps not far from the truth. There even are some comic scenes in the film, which are very welcome amongst the grim events. The young actresses are also very good. To make the story less predictable main character Bernadette (played by the lovely Nora-Jane Noone) is rather selfish and not very sympathetic. Furthermore I liked the somewhat distorted classical music.

The fact that the film is based on true events, gives it an extra dimension. My only irritation: in the credits is stated that the characters are entirely fictitious, but nevertheless you get epilogues at the end stating what happened to the girls in their later lives (She now lives in London, married and divorced three times etc..). But what is true is that no less than 30.000 girls have been sent to (and exploited in) these Magdalene Laundries, which were in use until 1996. Some girls spent their entire lives there. The catholic church was not very happy with this film, which was partly financed by Jim Kerr (singer of the Simple Minds).