Condemned by the Vatican and the U.S. Catholic League for being anti-Catholic, Scottish actor-turned-director Peter Mullan's devastating drama is a shocking expose of little-known subject: The Magdalene Asylums of Ireland and Scotland, where "dishonored" women were remanded to the dubious care of the notoriously harsh Sisters of Mercy sect. Estimates suggest that some 30,000 Irish and Scottish Catholic girls unfortunate enough to have been unwed mothers, rape victims or simply perceived as promiscuous spent years toiling as unpaid slaves in the Asylums' laundries while their souls were supposedly undergoing rehabilitation. Never convicted of any crime, many of these women spent much of their lives as virtual prisoners under the harsh supervision of sadistic priests and nuns, often subjected to physical and sexual abuse and forbidden contact with the outside world. The rationale was that, like Mary Magdalene, the women might find salvation through deprivation and hardship; the laundries, meanwhile, raked in the profits. Mullan, who made his directorial debut in 1999 with the excellent ORPHANS, turns an outraged yet compassionate eye toward this dreadful history by following the fate of three fictionalized young women who, in 1964, are sent to live and work at a Magdalene Asylum in County Dublin as punishment for their transgressions. Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) is abandoned to the sisters by her parents after she's raped by her cousin at a family wedding. Branded a temptress, plump and pretty Bernadette (Nora-Jane Doone) is banished from St. Attracta's orphanage because she's deemed a little too popular with the local boys. And Rose (Dorothy Duffy) is sent away shortly after handing her illegitimate newborn over to a priest for adoption. Once locked within the asylum's drab walls, the girls are stripped of their possessions (Rose must even relinquish her name; she's called Patricia from now on) and put to work washing and scrubbing in the laundries, their only respite meager meals and hours of prayer. Bernadette begins to change after a failed escape attempt brings harsh punishment by the draconian Sister Bridget (a frighteningly good Geraldine McEwan), and soon becomes as cruel as her captors. And this, Mullen asserts, is the ultimate tragedy of the Magdalene Asylums, the last of which wasn't closed until 1996: generations of healthy spirits were twisted and deformed by the good Sisters of Mercy, all in the name of salvation.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: Condemned by the Vatican and the U.S. Catholic League for being anti-Catholic, Scottish actor-turned-director Peter Mullan's devastating drama is a shocking expose of little-known subject: The Magdalene Asylums of Ireland and Scotland, where "dishonored" w… (more)