Film Review by Josephine Donnolley
The Magdalene Sisters
Beautifully filmed, the story begins in 1964 with three so-called wayward young women being placed in a "Magdalene" home run by the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland. The reasons for these placements are very trivial. Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone), an orphan, was too friendly to the boys. Rose (Dorothy Duffy) is a young unwed mother whose family had abandoned her, and Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) was sexually abused and was sent there to protect the family name. At the beginning of the film the Sister in charge states that "Mary Magdalene was a sinner of the worst kind . and that by hard work and earthly means the soul can redeem itself." Mary Magdalene is the "fallen woman" of the Bible, the prostitute who found redemption through hard work and became a hand maiden to Jesus. This was the path these poor young women were to tread, of exploitation as slave labour in a commercial laundry, "The Magdalene", owned by the Catholic Church. They were assaulted and denied basic human rights. One of the women was not even permitted to keep her own name. The actors are exceptional and one feels their every sadness. One wonders how such an inhumane institution came into being and still existed in Ireland until 1996. It has been estimated that 30,000 women and young girls lived and died in the Magdalene laundries. The period of the film was a time of women's liberation in the Western world but these young women were stripped of their liberty and condemned to indefinite sentences of work in order to atone for their so-called sins, in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene. Australia, like Ireland, also had its own institutions. An estimated 40,000 Aboriginal children, 10,000 child migrants and as many as 100,000 non- indigenous children were institutionalised in Australia in the last century. Up until the 1970s there were commercial laundries run by the Good Shepard Sisters — an order of Catholic nuns — in the capital cities of Australia. Many of the girls who worked in these laundries had come from Catholic institutions. The Magdalene Sisters was directed by Peter Mullan. It is the winner of the prestigious Golden Lion for best film at the Venice Film Festival. It is currently showing at independent cinemas in capital cities.