This week, Bianca Lorena reviews “The Magdalane Sisters”
Directed By Peter Mullan, Released in 2002, 119 minutes Running Time
Cast- Eileen Walsh as Crispina, Dorothy Duffy as Rose/Patricia, Nora Jane-Noone as Bernadette, Anne-Marie Duff as Margaret, and Geraldine McEwan as Sister Bridget.
The Magdalene Sisters is a powerful and emotional yet poignant story that follows the lives of four young Irish women growing up in a Magdalene asylum in 1960’s Ireland. The four girls endure years of torture and abuse at the hands of the corrupt sisters who run the convent. The story is based on true events that really happened in the asylums in Ireland.
Crispina, Patricia (real name Rose), Bernadette, and Margaret are sent to live in the Magdalene asylum after being cast out by their families and society. Crispina after having a child young, Patricia for getting pregnant young, Bernadette for being a wayward orphan, and Margaret for becoming pregnant after being raped by her cousin.
The four girls all live and work in the prison like ‘laundries’ together, become friends and form a bond through the hard and long hours they work. While discovering the only way out of the convent is to escape.
We see that the girls placed in these convents endure physical and mental pain by the sisters running the asylum. Bernadette’s head is shaved and she is graphically beaten senseless by the sisters when caught escaping. The mental pain that the girls are put through is also shown when the girls are lined up naked after a communal shower, and are humiliated about their bodies while the sisters relish this moment. Crispina is also seen to be giving disturbing sexual favours to the corrupt priest, who is taking advantage of her vulnerability as a girl of the convent.
Although emotionally powerful The Magdalene Sisters is, as an audience we still see a cleverly witty side from the girls. Bernadette (Nora Jane-Noone) is right on form as the crazed outcast, who though she hates the asylum still tries to make the most of being there.
She escapes to meet boys and also steels. Nora Jane-Noone plays her with true determination, and her portrayal of her hostile ‘fallen’ character is witty with her Irish charm shining through. Even though she is the most rebellious girl, you can’t help but grow to love her.
Geraldine McEwan portrays the merciless Sister Bridget with raw drive and gives no compassion as her character throughout the film. Although an Old Catholic woman, and a woman of god, she still beats the girls unfairly. Her main aim of her role in the convent is to keep the girls there as long as possible and corrupt them during their stay there.
Eventually Margaret is allowed to leave by her brother, while Crispina is wrongly moved into a mental institution to spend the rest of her days. Triumphantly Bernadette and Patricia escape the asylum after they can no longer take it when Bernadette sees an older woman in her sixties die there. The woman has been there most of her life and this prompts the girls for change. They steal a key from Sister Bridget’s office and escape for good, but not before a last confrontation with her.
Bernadette and Patricia are then seen running far away from the asylum and finding a job and lodgings in the local town, by someone who offers them help. Weeks pass and we see Patricia boarding a coach for a ferry to Liverpool to go and find her son who was taken away from her. While Bernadette informs us that she will stay in the town as a trainee hairdresser and the sisters will not be able to touch her because she has a ‘respectable job.’ This final piece is powerful as we see the two girls really did escape, and make a better life for themselves outside the convent. They tell each other they will keep in touch.
However the best is yet to come when after Bernadette walks away down the street it starts to pour down with rain, and she runs into two of the sisters from the convent under a dreary walkway. She recognises them, and they her, and flashes back to images from the beginning of the film where the nuns are abusing her. Music to accompany this scene in its performance comes in, and it adds an eerie but essential hand at creating the final picture. Flashing images and cross cutting shoots back to what happened at the convent and Bernadette itches her head in irritation to what is happening. She itches her hair so much in frustration that her trendy hairstyle falls loose and she is soaking wet with rain and make up down her face. The final piece of the puzzle ends with Bernadette giving the nuns one last powerful glance back at them as she is walking away. This shows us she has moved on from the convent but what happened there will always stay in her mind. The powerful image is the last image inflicted in our minds that stays with us about the film.
The final epilogue shows us the outcome of what happened to the girls from The Magdalene convent. We find out that Crispina died of anorexia at twenty four in the mental institute she was sent to. Margaret went on to become a primary school teacher in Scotland, Bernadette opened a hair salon and married three times, and Patricia married and had two more children and eventually found her son who was taken away from her after thirty three years.
The true events that happened were the base of the inspiration for The Magdalene Sisters, although not all of these women’s stories were factual. The director Peter Mullan recalls that the real women’s stories were his inspiration to put together this film, and he built the rest on that. Although much worse things were have said to have happened in these asylums. Peter Mullan’s wanted to make this film to help the women that suffered this terrible injustice and abuse to get closure from what had happened.
The last Magdalene asylum closed in 1996. But not before 30,000 were detained there over the years.
Image reproduced from http://www.levriers-en-detresse.org/
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