More noise than signal

The Magdalene Sisters

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Pete Mullen, for most audiences I would wager, may not be a household name, but the Scots actor perhaps will be best known for his appearance as Swanney in Trainspotting, or as the lead in Ken Loach’s My Name Is Joe, or perhaps simply as “Hey, it’s that guy!”in a wide variety of films stretching back decades. He’s also directed three films, the second of which we are gathered here to talk about, The Magdalene Sisters. It would, however, be remiss of us not to point out that his other films, Neds, and particularly his debut Orphans, come highly recommended, particularly if you’ve an interest in contemporary Scottish filmmaking and culture.

However, we’re over in Ireland for the events of The Magdalene Sisters, as three teenage girls are forcibly taken, with the agreement of their family, to the Magdalene Laundries for perceived crimes such as having a kid out of wedlock, being raped by a family member and looking pretty and talking to boys. Catholics are weird.

The tenet of these laundries appears to be that, as men are incapable of resisting their base desires, it’s the duty of women to be locked away from men. And while you’re there, you might as well work tirelessly for a combination of salvation of your soul and money for the Church. Oh, and ritual humiliation, too.

This is an altogether infuriating thing that actually happened, and until very recently as well, that’s no less than slavery. It’s almost unbelievable, but it seems that if anything the horrendous abuse show here is, if anything, understated compared to reality. As baffling as that may be.

This is a bleak, uncompromising look at the Laundries, and is by turns depressing and infuriating. It’s hard to recommend it as an enjoyable experience, well, because it’s obviously not, but it’s a powerful, well produced, well acted film that’s shining a light on an under-examined, ignominious chapter of the Church’s chequered history.