The world is becoming more sensitive and humanistic. What was perpetrated
upon human beings in many societies as recently as the 1960's sends a chill
up one's spine today. This film recounts 3 true stories of women put away
into the Magdalene Asylums in Ireland during that period -- a place so
demeaning to its charges that prison life comes to mind. In fact, the
present day protections for the worst kind of murderers outstrip common
practice in these institutions that hid their abuses behind a veil of
religion, in this case Catholicism, where hypocrisy has found fertile
Three victims of injustice are focused on to represent the hundreds of the
unwanted that fell into the imprisonment by the nuns of the system. Margaret
(Anne-Marie Duff) is raped at a family gathering by her cousin. When she
reports it to her older sister the account is transmitted to the parents of
the family. Instead of beating the chops out of the rapist, Margaret is
summarily sent to the Magdalene lock up. This served as justice.
Bernadette's (Nora-Jane Noone) story is different. A rather brash and
needful girl, she flirts with boys hanging out over her school's yard, even
lingering in their attentions while the rest of the school goes back to
class. This doesn't go unnoticed by the administration, and she's soon
packed off to join Margaret.
Finally Rose, whose family can't accept her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, is
intimidated by a priest to give up the child for adoption, opening the door
to the Asylum as penance for her sin.
We are aghast at the lack of humankindness behind the walls of the place,
where beatings, cruelties and deprivations are the themes of the day --
everyday. At the peak of the institutional policies of dread is Sister
Bridget, skillfully played by Geraldine McEwan as the wicked witch of the
dungeon -- a sister of unmercy not unlike Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched in
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." It seems that giving the wrong people
a position of trust and custodianship turns too often into the application of
Misery is the theme and there's little escape from it during the time
depicted, though end credits inform us of the fates of the women subsequent
to their releases. This does little, however, to relieve what is a
depressing visit with the helpless. While we experience the helplessness,
and while the purpose of the film is clear, the story telling is as
spiritless and uncompelling as asylum life.
The performances are earnest and sympathetic, at times gutsy, but doesn't
break us out of story constraints.
In an example of outrageously poor choice, writer-director Peter Mullan has a
mentally impaired inmate, who has been regularly seduced by a priest, scream
at him when he's "outed," "You are not a man of god" repeatedly. You might
think she repeats it 3 or 4 times to make the point but Mullan has her scream
it more like 20 or 25 times until you're frantically looking for the nearest
All in all, a worthy, if dull effort which leaves us feeling we've been
assigned to a lecture whose delivery is unequal to the content.
~~ Jules Brenner