See & Do

Review: The Magdalene Sisters

Movie poster for The Magdalene Sisters.In 1960’s Ireland, under the strict and unchallenged influence of the Roman Catholic Church, sex outside marriage, like murder, was considered a mortal sin. Women who transgressed or fell under suspicion were condemned by community and church as fallen women. These young were sent away and locked up in Magdalene asylums.

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.



  • angela

    sounds kinda like the movie Sleepers. very good movie. its sad to hear those places operated until 1996!

  • Cosette

    I saw that! I liked it. However, The Magdalene Sisters never gets caught up in revenge and retribution.

  • jett

    The movie got rave reviews when it came out although I think – quite naturally – it had a bigger impact in Ireland than anywhere else.

  • I think I was one of the few people who saw this movie in the theatre when it came out. It was very good, and VERY hard to watch. I sat out in my car in the parking lot afterwards and cried for a while before I was able to drive home.

  • Niobium

    It was in my queue and we watched it about a year ago or so. Even now it's difficult to *think* back on the movie. I can't listen to any of the songs which were on the soundtrack (I downloaded some) because the terror these women had to endure. Overall, though, it was fantastic. “Unflinching” is a good adjective, me thinks.

  • Just one of the many reasons why I'm a recovering Catholic.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding The Magdelene Sister's I personally believe the story. (see Amnesty Internation Abuse of Women). At any given time you can find many articles about the abuse that men have done to women for centuries. Maybe 8 years ago you could have denied it but knowledge has grown and many things have been revealed openly. People are smart….They are in the know.