It wasn't the 1800's, it was 1964. One would assume things had progressed enough to look beyond the slight mistake of an unmarried pregnant daughter. Instead she is bundled up and scurried off to the depths of depravity known as the Magdalene Laundries. She wasn't alone, the building was full of those known as The Magdalene Sisters, the girls that had disgraced their families. It was ruled by the Catholic Church and it wasn't pretty. It was written and directed byPeter Mullen and rated R for violence, cruelty, nudity, sexual content, and language. It was nominated for 26 awards and justly won 14 of them.
The Story: The movie is depressing from the beginning. I assumed it was featuring a much older era and was totally surprised to find out it represented the 1960's. We follow the lives of three main characters; Margaret, Bernadette, and Rose. Like I stated, one, Rose, had gotten pregnant out of wedlock. Not an earth shattering revelation but apparently in these times and under these circumstances, it was enough to get her put into this institution.
One of the other girls. Margaret, had gotten raped by her cousin at a family wedding. When she told her family, they shoved her out like she was the offensive one and nothing was done to her cousin. The nesxt morning she was bundled off to the laundries. Bernadette lived in an orphanage, she was an attractive girl. Her crime, the one that put her in this prison, was flirting.
Once you have been turned over to the Magdalene system the chances of you ever returning to a normal life are slim. Some of the women had been there for their entire lives. They spent the majority of the day working in a backbreaking facility for no pay. They received little food, no real recreation, and certainly no sympathy. The folk in neighboring towns considered them the lowest form of life, not worth talking to - if they were allowed to speak, which was practically forbidden at all times.
The nuns, overseeing the facility were beyond sadistic and cruel. Punishment aside, they degraded and belittled the girls and women, some of them just children, for their own pleasure. They thought nothing of stripping them and having them all stand at attention while they ridiculed their appearance.
The theme of the movie is survival and even a bit of defiance.
The Actors: Anne-Marie Duff, Nora- Jane Noone, and Dorothy Duffy took on the roles of Margaret, Bernadette, and Rose. Each employs a distinctive mindset to their character, extracting sympathy from you immediately and throughout the film.
On the other hand, Geraldine McEwan, as the Reverend Mother, was despicable from the first to the last frame she appeared in. Even when she showed regret, shedding a tear, you could see from her stance and demeanor it was nothing more than a ploy. She was an empty shell. Outstanding acting by McEwan.
DVD Extras: commentary by Peter Mullan; two short Mullan films - Fridge & Close; audition tapes for actresses; trailer; previews. Before the movie starts, the DVD carries what I call an advertisement segment which might have been better understood after viewing the film rather than before. They short film clips about abuse, alcoholism, anerexia, and self esteem, voiced by Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Jennifer Lopez. They were good and relevant and perhaps if put in the special features section of the DVD might not be viewed.
Overall impression: Anger to start with, followed by sympathy. The story is painful to watch considering it was based on true events and was in the current time frame, not a couple of centuries ago. It is deplorable to think the church allowed this abuse to continue, but I'll keep my lips zipped on that. Don't think you will get any answers in this film, how could they explain what they did to these women? They simply chose to close their mouths and keep quiet.
The laundries were designed to house and employ prostitutes, back in the 1940's, as a means of rehabilitation for wayward women. As times went on the term wayward kind of lost its way and expanded to imprison girls for the slightest infraction. The story of Bernadette, in particular, is harrowing. Locked up because she was attractive? What madness is that?
The laundries were finally closed in 1996. Over 30,000 women passed through their doors. Incredulous.
For much of the 20th century in Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church operated a string of laundries, the Magdalene Asylums, where very young women accused of "moral crimes" were sent to work and repent of their evil ways in a cathartic vision of cleansing the soul while cleaning the laundry. These so-called "moral crimes" were broadly defined as becoming pregnant, getting raped or even flirting with boys or being overly attractive and thus committing the sin of vanity. In … more