The Magdalene Sisters is an unflinching, Irish-British drama that charts several years in the lives of Rose, Margaret, Bernadette, and Crispina. They have been rejected and abandoned by family and society. Their crimes? Having a child out of wedlock, being raped, being too pretty, and being disabled.
Once confined inside the high walls of the Magdalene asylum, the “penitents” get their hair cut, wear drab uniforms, and spend all their days doing laundry. The labour is unpaid, physically difficult, and symbolic. It is the purging of sin by the washing of dirty linen. The nuns are cruel and violent. The priest is sexually abusive. The young women are stripped not only of their liberty, but of their dignity. Indefinitely caged and powerless, the girls harden, acquiesce, rebel, grow desperate, and crazy.
The film has been attacked, not surprisingly, by the Catholic League, but The Magdalene Sisters is based on records and testimonies by former inmates. The DVD includes a 1998 documentary that interviews the real women that inspired Rose, Margaret, Bernadette, and Crispina. Sex in a Cold Climate looks at how thousands of young women were condemned to these Magdalene laundries and at the legacy of guilt and shame after years of torture and abuse.
This didn’t happen so long ago. The last Magdalene asylum in Ireland was closed in 1996. It is unknown how many women were kept in them because the Church has kept the records secret, but the estimate is 30,000 women over its 150-year old history.
The Magdalene Sisters is from 2002 and is rated R.