The Magdalene Sisters
DIRECTED BY Peter Mullan
STARRING Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, Anne-Marie Duff
Opens February 21, Cert 15, 119 mins
The opening scene of Peter Mullan's award-winning social drama The Magdalene Sisters unfolds in a Dublin pub in 1964, where Guinness-stained granddads in cloth caps slap their thighs to fiddle-dee-diddle-dee music played by a lecherous priest who salivates suggestively over his bodhran while crucifixes are reflected in whisky glasses and a lusty Irish buck rapes his own cousin. Naturally.
However, initial disappointment at semaphoric 10-in-a-bed Angela's Ashes Oirishisms is swiftly superseded by Mullan's muscular story of Bernadette (Noone), Margaret (Duff) and Rose (Duffy) and their detention in one of Ireland's infamous Magdalene Laundries (nun-controlled borstals for 'fallen women'). Here the girls fight to retain a sense of identity and humanity in the face of state-sanctioned brutality—ritual humiliation, food depravation, and physical and sexual abuse are commonplace.
As with Philip Noyce's recent historical exposé, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Mullan has a wealth of newly uncovered data to draw from, much of it gleaned from two outstanding TV documentaries, States Of Fear and Sex In A Cold Climate. And yet, though he claims to be scandalised by the Magdalene story and calls it "one of the greatest injustices of the second half of the 20th century", the movie itself often sacrifices context and political historicism for barefaced caricature and dramatic provocation.
Rating: 3 / 10