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The Magdalene Sisters
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A stirring, must-see motion picture critics called one of the best films of the year, THE MAGDALENE SISTERS is the triumphant story of three extraordinary women whose courage to defy a century of injustice would inspire a nation! Abandoned by society and cast out by their families for crimes they did not commit, these women found themselves stripped of their liberty and dignity and condemned to indefinite sentences of manual labor. Within the church-run Magdalene Laundries, these women were forced into unbearable institutional servitude in order to cleanse themselves of the "sins" of which they had been accused. From acclaimed director Peter Mullan, this award-winning powerhouse not only reveals the truth behind one of the great tragedies of our time, but celebrates the bravery that would bring it to an end!
A movie guaranteed to make the blood boil, The Magdalene Sisters gives a lacerating account of life inside a Magdalene Laundry, one of the dismal asylums for "wayward women" run by the Catholic Church in Ireland. Director Peter Mullan, inspired by a TV documentary on the same subject, follows the miserable fates of three young women who are institutionalized in the 1960s for flimsy reasons; their lives are at the mercy of sadistic nuns (Geraldine McEwan is superb as the head of the place). The film sounds tortuous, but its rich sense of outrage and excellent performances--Nora-Jane Noone is a real discovery--make it consistently gripping. The movie won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival and went on to become a box-office hit in Ireland, where the Magdalene system was still a fresh memory. It had been abolished only in 1996. --Robert Horton
- British TV documentary on the same subject, "Sex on a Cold Climate"
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This account lets you experience it through the lives of three young women.e
It would seem to me that putting a story to film that is primarily about wrongful persecution, incarceration, endurance of institution cruelties, and finally triumph over injustice, is pretty much like trying to walk through a mine field unscathed. Most of us have had to endure countless films of this type in the past that usually end up being little more then sappy preachy balls of cheese. What makes The Magdalene Sisters an even more precariously difficult target to hit is that the film is an almost entirely all female cast. Lets be honest for a moment, it would be a hard task indeed to find another film involving nuns and incarcerated women that is not of the sleazy nunsploitation/girl in prison sexploitation sub genre's. The ultimate result when you factor in the story, is that a lot could of gone wrong with this film, but instead writer/director Peter Mullen hit the bull's eye with astounding accuracy and perfection. Not once does he ever insult the viewers intellegence by ever forcing on them something when it is already obvious. Instead we have a film full of memorable female characters, of various ages and individualities.
The best way to look at this film is with the eyes of an actor. When you watch The Magdalene Sisters on the merits of its various rolls and character drama's you quickly realize that the script is completely awesome. I can only imagine how the cast members must of been foaming at the mouth to land a roll in this film when their agents passed the script on to them. Not only do the three principle leads have great characters, moments, actions, and dialog, that any actor in their right mind would die for, but even the smaller rolls of the nuns stand head and shoulders above most rolls and most movies nowadays. In fact, the acting is so strong in this picture that I feel inclined to bring up the Academy Awards and toss the Oscar under the bus once and for all.
You're not a man of God!
In 1993, David Thewlis had the roll and performance of the entire decade of the 1990's as Johnny in Mike Leigh's Naked, but he did not win the Oscar, in fact, he did not even get nominated. In the case of The Magdalene Sisters, The Great Eileen Walsh who plays Chrispina, ( I will allways call her "The Great" after seeing her in this perfomance ) had the perfomance of this current decade which would make it the performance of the new century. Chrispina is doing her slave labor for the duel sins of having a baby out of wedlock and also for being a bit dim in the head. When we first meet her it is uncomfortably unnerving, as she swaps chores with Bernadette, played by Nora Jane Noone, who is incarcerated for being too pretty and flurting with boys. Possibly because Chrispina is the target of the orders head priest molestations, she refuses to wash priest collars, yet she does not mind cleaning menstrual blood out of undergarments and instead explains how to get the blood out with cold water and salt. It soon becomes clear that there is something fundamentally lacking in Chrispina while she is talking to Rose/Patricia, Dorothy Duffy. While holding a conversation in such a way that the supervising nun won't realize they are talking, since talking is another form of disobedience, Chrispina gets stuck on a word. She gets so flustered trying to remember what she wants to tell Rose/Patricia that she turns to the very nun she was trying to hide the conversation from to begin with and says to her, " Excuse me sister! What's the word?"
Unlike most of the wayward girls in that institution, Chrispina is also lacking in the normal mental fortitude that helps us more normal adaptable people withstand something like an endless boot camp. As the film progresses Chrispina starts to really unravel rapidly, indeed, every time we see her she looks more unhinged and emotionally shattered then the last time. After a while the viewer begines to wonder if there is any possible way that Chrispina could fall any deeper into dispair and look any more jacked up. It is a testimony to The Great Eileen Walsh that not only does she manage to out do our expectation, scene in and scene out, but what is actually taking place, unknown to the audience, is that the character of Chrispina has now become the very vehicle that will push the film over the climax in what is easily one of the most powerful moments I have ever seen in film.
Eileen Walsh winner of The Paul Aragon Award for best sapporting actress of the decade. Its not an Oscar but hey....
In Film terms, The Great Eileen Walsh has what is known as The Moment. When you think of the legendary film performances such as Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, or Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckcoo's Nest, it is very easy to recall The Moment in both these land mark perfomacnes. For Pacino, it is when he yells "Attica." For Nicholson, it's when he invents his own World Series broadcast. The Moment in The Magdalene Sisters is when The Great Eileen Walsh yells out " You're not a man of God!" at the top of her lungs 24 times in a row. I would love to discus all aspects of this perfomance, but for the sake of creating too many spoilers, I have decided to instead discribe how it feels to me to endure The Moment. This in itself is causing goose bumps to appear on my arms as I type.
Since The Moment takes place in a public setting, and because there are a great many separate drama's taking place all at once, the initial yelling of that line by Chrispina catches me completely off balance. Which by itself is quite julting. It is not untill around the tenth time through that line however, that I become aware of the full body chill that runs down my spine like ice water. It is around that time that two words stamp themselves into brain and stay there fixed, they are" OH GOD!"
At around the 15th time Chrisina yells that line, I find that I am gasping and that my breathing is actually labored. Then at around her 20th time yelling the line I feel a huge wave of power fly out of my TV, cross the room and into my face and body with all the force of a Mack Truck wielding a wrecking ball. In all my many years of being a hard core film buff, I can safely say that this moment in The Magdalene Sisters might be the single strongest most viscerally impacting acting outburst that I have ever experienced in my life. It felt like The Great Eileen Walsh took my soul out to the woodshed and beat it to within an inch of its life.
Just like David Thewlis Oscar is sitting on a shelf somewhere in Tom Hanks house, so too that The Great Eileen Walsh's Oscar is at Renee Zellweger's house. The Magdalene Sisters, and the wonderful performances in this film ( especially the great one by The Great Eileen Walsh) prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no award in existance that can ever have the final say so on the best anything. It is up to us film buffs to find true greatness for ourselves, and then inform others.
This review was submitted so that The Great Eileen Walsh could get the recognition she truly deserves. In my mind, she has had the honor of the greatest performance of the decade.