In the asylum's history, over 30,000 women were incarcerated, endured the Catholic Churches discipline systems and many died there. Often sexually abused and assaulted by priests, sexually humiliated, assaulted, shamed and beaten within an inch of their lives by their masochistic caretakers, the nuns - those "sweet sisters of mercy".
As a shocker, The last of these horrendous Catholic laundries closed in 1996.
Scottish actor-writer-director Peter Mullan sets the story in 1964, the high-water mark for tension between our modern society and old-line Catholicism.
The story centers on three very young women who were surreptitiously marched off to repent and be slaves for life to the Holy Catholic Church and their "pious" service of community.
Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) is raped by her cousin at a family wedding and both of her parents place her in the "care" of their village priest and ship her off to the Magelene Laundries to avoid that horrible stigma of shameful family embarrassment; Rose (Dorothy Duffy) is an unwed mother forced by her mother, father and Holy Father to give her baby boy up for adoption, placing him in the Catholic orphanage system, and Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) is a Catholic orphanage young and beautiful teenaged girl deemed loose just because she is so pretty, fun and talks to boys.
All three are sent to a Magdalene laundry outside Dublin, where conditions would make the dusty prison farm in "Cool Hand Luke" look like a virtual health spa. These young women are worked 12 to 14 hours a day, 364 days a year (except Christmas, God bless) without any pay, viciously beaten for even speaking out of turn and, in one most disturbing scene, trotted around naked and ridiculed by the nuns.
Overseeing the place is Highhanded Sister Bridget, a witch in a wimpole, well played by the British veteran Geraldine MacEwan.
The other inmates of the Holy Catholic Church are a varied lot. The tragic figure of the mentally disabled, sexually assaulted, and committed Crispina played by Eileen Walsh in an earth shattering performance really stands out as the best performance in the cast, in my humble opinion.
The nuns are given some depth by director, Mullan- Sister Bridget is shown as a whirling devilish mean mother superior one moment, but capable of gushing tears at a Christmas Day screening of "The Bells of St. Mary's."
What is truly unbelievable and disquieting in "The Magdalene Sisters" is how the Irish families of the prisoners aided and abetted such cruel treatment of their own flesh and blood.
When one girl, Una, successfully escapes the laundry, she is beaten within an inch of her life and is dragged back by her father (oddly played by the director, Mullan), who verbally and physically abuses Una every step of the way. Una is handed over to Sister Bernadette and the sister shaves all of Una's beautiful hair off of her beaten and bloodied head which was a regular action taken by the nuns.
In Mullan's portrait of institutionalized shame and suffering, and a society's uniquely cruel form of sexual repression, "The Magdalene Sisters" is a hard pill to take, but certainly worth it for its outpouring of overcoming, raw rage and defiance on the screen.
And if the fact-based movie weren't enough to shock, also included is the British documentary "Sex In A Cold Climate" which interviews several Irish women who were imprisioned during the time of the Catholic Church's REIGN OF TERROR! The documentary exposes even more sick, sad and twisted goings on that the movie didn't even touch upon...
Highly Recommended and Happy Pondering!
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