In Ireland in 1964, three 'fallen' teenage girls - one unmarried mother, one raped by a cousin, one who simply flirted with boys - are sent to a Magdalene laundry run by the Catholic Church. Incarcerated under slave-like conditions in a harsh, morally hypocritical regime, escape isn't even an option.
Given the condemnations that poured from the Vatican when The Magdalene Sisters premiered (and went on to win top prize) at the Venice Film Festival, you'd think Peter Mullan was the Antichrist.
However, his second stab at directing (afterOrphans) isn't a cynical attempt to kick the Catholic Church when it's reeling from contemporary scandals. This angry, emotionally manipulative but heartfelt film actually admires the faith of the girls locked away from the outside world. Mullan's target isn't religion: it's abuse of power, moral hypocrisy and sadistic authority. As such, the film has as much in common with the first half of Full Metal Jacket as The Devils.
The stark cinematography captures the oppressive mood of the Magdalene institution, while Mullan avoids the more stylish directorial flourishes of his debut and leaves the stage open for his ensemble cast to rise to the occasion. The performances are compelling, with Eileen Walsh a stand-out as Crispina.
A deliberately provocative film that triggers the audience's emotions in order to highlight important issues of personal freedom. Amen to that.
Reviewed by Alan Morrison