BY HUSSAIN RAHIM
Daily Arts Writer
Published April 15, 2004
Make no qualms about it: “The Magdalene Sisters” is
a downer in every sense of the word. Writer/director Peter Mullan
encountered a fair amount of controversy for bringing one of the
most shameful acts of the Catholic Church to the big screen in all
its unrelenting pessimism. Upon its release it was officially
banned by the Vatican, which heightens the controversy.
Mullan’s film achieves its goal of depicting the grim and
hopeless situation these women were trapped in.
The film tells the story of “sinful” women who were,
during the mid-1960s in Ireland, abandoned by their families for
being raped and having children out of wedlock were sent to the
Magdalene convent. There they would ostensibly find redemption
through performing slave labor, washing clothes for the profits of
the nuns in charge. The militant nuns who ran this labor camp were
vile and contemptible women who spared no act of cruelty on the
girls left to their care. Stripped and given severe beatings, these
girls were slowly forced into obedience.
The film focuses on the stories of four women who struggle in
different ways and with varying degrees of success to escape their
confinement. “Shawshank Redemption”-style attempts to
find joy within the surroundings are avoided, as is the buddy flick
where the girls all bond by the end. Overwhelmingly these girls are
broken, and even their escape from the convent fails to bring a
A story with this level of power warrants strong DVD extras, but
sadly, these are missing. There is a documentary — “Sex
in a Cold Climate” — on the real-life victims of the
Magdalene convent which offers some interesting insight into the
film, but it just leaves viewers with the desire to hear more.
Audio commentaries, usually the norm for today’s DVD
releases, are nowhere to be found, which is disappointing for a
film this intense.
Despite the lack of special features, “The Magdalene
Sisters” is still powerful and revelatory viewing for those
interested in this unique and tragic story.
Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 4 out of 5 stars
Features: 1 out of 5 stars