From writer / director Peter Mullan comes a 2002 movie called The Magdalene Sisters about 4 young women who are sent to Magdalene Asylums, also known as ‘Magdalene Laundries’), homes for women who were labelled as “fallen” by their families or society. The homes were maintained by individual religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. The four girls are portrayed by Anne-Marie Duff, Nora Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy & Eileen Walsh.
The movie starts with showing the circumstances through which 3 of the girls came to be sent to the Magdalene Asylum. Margaret is raped by her cousin at a wedding is thought to bring shame to her family; Bernadette who is an orphan is seen flirting with boys at a playground (even if there is a iron fence between them) & though she is a virgin; and Rose who has a child out of wedlock and the boy is taken away to be given for adoption. It is heartbreaking to see Rose pleading to her mother & father to just look at her new baby boy atleast once before sending him away. The 3 girls meet at the asylum where mentally challenged Crispina who has had a son outta wedlock is already a resident. The asylum is run by the greedy & malicious Sister Bridget who dishes out punishment via canning and forcefully cutting of the hair of girls who earn her wrath. The other nuns also seem to take merriment in physically & verbally torturing and abusing the girls. The asylum runs a large & profitable laundry service in which the girls are made to work during the day and are not allowed to speak during that time.
Rose is told that she will be called Patricia from now on as they already have a Rose as an inmate. She suffers pain when milk backs up in her breasts but is denied lactating them as Bridget feels that she must suffer through the anguish. An inmate named Una escapes and runs away to her home but is brought back by her father who has renounced her. Although Sister Bridget speaks tenderly to her that night, the next day she cuts all of Una’s long brunette locks off. Crispina and Bernadette are also reprimanded for speaking aloud in the laundry rooms, resulting in several blows to the back of the thighs with Sister Bridget’s switch. Bernadette seduces a laundry delivery man named Brendan and offers to marry him and elope at midnight if he helps her escape from the asylum. She is caught when Brendan, who has a key to the outdoor entrance, loses his nerve and Bernadette is forcefully and violently sheared of her dark hair which leaves her with various bloody cuts. Later in a scene that will stick with you, the girls are all forced to strip naked and parade their bodies for a couple of the nuns who then mock them and compare the breasts, buttocks and pubic hair of the girls.
Crispina, who’s sister brings her young son to see her once in while, is driven to try to kill herself by soaking herself in cold water and sleeping in it to catch a flu loses her precious St Christopher medal and tries to hang herself. The other 3 girls stop her just in time but Bernadette, who has the medal all along, decides against giving it back to Crispina. While out in the woods next to the asylum Margaret sees Crispina being forced to perform fellatio on Father Fitzroy, the resident priest just before mass. She tells Crispina not to consider him a man of god and fights with Bernadette when the medal is discovered under her pillow. Margaret decides to punish the priest by tossing in an itchy plant along with his clothes in the washing machine. The next day father Fitzroy break out in a livid rash and violently strips off his clothes during an open-air mass, causing much embarrassment. When Crispina realises she has the same rash between her legs and that Sister Bridget will not help her, she obsessively screams “You’re not a man of God!” at Fitzroy for 10 minutes. That night, Crispina is forcibly taken to Mt. Vernon, a hospital for the mentally ill, so she cannot reveal any more about Fitzroy’s sexual abuse of her.
After four years at the asylum Margaret’s younger brother, who is grown up now, gets her released from the asylum on Christmas day. As Margaret is leaving she blocks Sister Bridget’s way and refuses to give way, choosing to kneel down and pray so the visiting bishop has the sister move along. Soon after that Katy, the laundry overseer falls ill and dies alone in her room as the nuns refuse to even visit her. Bernadette, who hated Katy for alerting the nuns about her doomed escape, however relents and kisses Katy on the forehead as a goodbye. When she goes to inform sister Bernadette about Katy’s death, she finds the nun viciously beating for telling Crispina’s sister that she had been imprisoned in the mental hospital. That night, she tells Patricia that they have to leave. They break into Sister Bridget’s office, and after a confrontation with Bridget and other nuns, escape the asylum. With the help of Bernadette’s aunt, who lives in a nearby town, they are able to start anew.
At the end of the movie we learn that Patricia going by Rose again, married and had two daughters before finding the son that was taken from her in 1964. Bernadette became a hairstylist like her aunt and moved to Scotland but is never able to have stable, happy relationships. She married and divorced three times and is currently living alone. Margaret became a school deputy headmistress but never married. Crispina was found by her sister in Mt. Vernon but, her mental health having deteriorated, she died there of anorexia in 1971. he film’s epilogue states that an estimated 30,000 women were held at Magdalene asylums throughout Ireland, and the last laundry closed in 1996.
Stunning brutal & sad movie to watch. Peter Mullan has remarked that the film was initially made because victims of Magdalene Asylums had no closure. They had not received any recognition, compensation, or apology, and many remained lifelong devout Catholics. Former Magdalen Asylum inmate, Mary-Jo McDonagh, told director and writer Peter Mullan that the reality of the Magdalene Asylums was much worse than depicted in the film. 8 outta 10!