The Magdalene Sisters

2003

The Magdalene Sisters

Critics Consensus

A typical women-in-prision film made untypical because it's based on real events.

91%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 149

89%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 13,344
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The Magdalene Sisters Photos

Movie Info

A drama which charts several years in the young lives of four "fallen women" who were rejected by their families and abandoned to the mercy of the Catholic Church in 1960's Ireland. While women's liberation is sweeping the globe, these women are stripped of their liberty and dignity, and they're condemned to indefinite sentences of servitude in The Magdalene Laundries in order to atone for their "sins." The last Magdalene Asylum in Ireland closed in 1996, and only since has the true horror of conditions in these institutions begun to emerge.

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Cast

Geraldine McEwan
as Sister Bridget
Anne-Marie Duff
as Margaret Maguire
Nora-Jane Noone
as Bernadette
Dorothy Duffy
as Rose Dunne/Patricia
Eileen Walsh
as Crispina
Frances Healy
as Sister Jude
Eithne McGuinness
as Sister Clementine
Phyllis McMahon
as Sister Augusta
Rebecca Walsh
as Josephine
Alison Goldie
as Kate Christie
Daniel Costello
as Father Fitzroy
Claire Murray
as Claire McKenzie
Anita Hyslop
as Jemma Heath
Leonna McGilligan
as Mariann Taylor
Julie Austin
as Theresa
Deirdre Davis
as Margaret's Mother
Ian Hanmore
as Margaret's Father
Pol McAdam
as Band Member at Wedding
David Muldrew
as Band Member at Wedding
Ciaran Owens
as Young Eamonn
Kevin Shields
as Band Member at Wedding
Stephen Mallon
as Orphanage Boy 1
Jim Murray
as Orphanage Boy 2
Christopher Sheridan
as Orphanage Boy 3
Maureen Allen
as Rose's Mother
Laurie Ventry
as Father Doonigan
Jim Walsh
as Rose's Father
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Critic Reviews for The Magdalene Sisters

All Critics (149) | Top Critics (43)

Audience Reviews for The Magdalene Sisters

  • Dec 02, 2012
    Hey, if making bad films is a sin, then this asylum is designed to redeem the impure is just plain perfect for Hilary Duff. Oh no, wait, I'm sorry, this film stars that chick who married James McAvoy, "Anne-Marie" Duff... as well as some girl named Dorothy Duffy, and is about four so-called "sisters", so if this film also starred Hilary and Haylie Duff as the other two Duff, then this film would pretty much be more along the lines of "The Duff Sisters", and it would be terrible, partially because the effectiveness of the disturbances would be diluted by the delight in seeing Hilary Duff getting degraded. Yeah, I'm sorry, that was messed up, and this asylum was messed up, which is ironic, because it's named after the woman who Jesus saved from violence and degradation at the hands of hypocritical sinners, and all it pretty much does is sinfully brutalize and degrade women. Hey, in all fairness, Jesus didn't have to pull that, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" stuff on the Irish, who most definately do not mess around, especially when religion is brought into the mix. For you non-Irish folk out there, if you think that disciplinary Catholic establishments and the Irish are hardcore individually, just imagine them combined, then you might have a better idea of why this film was shot in Scotland, rather than Ireland. You might think that this film's Scottish makers didn't want to spend money to go to Ireland and knew that Scottish is close enough to Irish, but really, I'm betting that even the Scots were afraid to enter an Irish Roman Catholic establishment, much less shoot in one. Hey, I don't really care where in the world this film was shot, because, regardless of the value of story concept, we probably could have done without it, which isn't to say that this film is actually bad, because on top of being too bland to be bad, this film has a few additional saving graces. This kind of, as the Rotten Tomatoes consensus put it, "women-in-prision film" has been done time and again, yet the subject matter remains quite strong, being rich with dramatic possibilities that this film all too often fails miserably at executing adequately, yet still stand firm enough in concept to create some moderate degree of immediate intrigue. Overambition and oh so many other mishaps in Peter Mullan's directorial execution betray and often dilute this intrigue, not enough to where the film loses so much juice that it sputters out at contempt, but certainly to where the film generally fails to bite as firmly as it should, and yet, with that said, as improvable as Mullan's efforts are, it's hard to deny the ambition and how such ambition can spark inspiriation. The film's effective occasions are ever so rare, and even when they do arrive, they still need a bit of additional juicing up, yet they can be found and, for an all too brief moment, truly spark this film to life and give you a fairly fine taste at what this film could have been: a tense, emotionally resonant and altogether provocatively effective meditation on the dark depths of humanity and the misguided religious. As a whole, this film fails to that, which is what it first set out to be, and I hate that, as this subject matter deserves better, yet it's not like effective occasions don't stand here and there, going intensified by a strength that stands consistent, no matter how much this film falls flat: outstanding acting. Films built around this much intense dramatic meditativeness are indeed directorial challenges, and ones that too many directors, such as Mullan, fail to overcome, yet as an acting challenge, films of this type have a better track record of being well-done, and sure enough, if nothing else can be said about this film, it is an awesome acting piece, with the antagonists' performers proving effectively convincing as cruelly misguided religious abusers, and the leads ranging from remarkable to truly sensational, whether it be the gracefully human Anne-Marie Duff as the audience avatar, or the subtly atmospheric Nora Jane Noone as the flawed headstrong, or the emotionally powerful, heavily layered and overall show-stealing Eileen Walsh as the unstable yet somewhat hopeful sufferer. The film's strengths are just so startlingly limited, yet what strengths there are are considerably potent and could have made the final product a truly rewarding one. As they stand, the strengths save the film and, at the same time, remind of the areas in which the film does anything but accel, for although the film is graced with its share of high spots and simply being too bland to be bad, a promising project's potential worthiness goes much more often than undercut by the final product's being, well, to be frank, just so blasted boring! Now, this film isn't necessarily one of those abstract, do-nothing art pieces that the critics love to celebrate, even though the actual success rate of those films are so startlingly slim it's all but unreal, so don't go in expecting something like the somehow even more tediously boring, monotonous and do-nothing prison suffering film, "Hunger" (Don't worry too much, you pretentious jerks, I still didn't hate it; you'd be surprised how far my "Too Bland to Be Bad" rule goes), but, jumpin' James McAvoy (A little something for Anne-Marie Duff, that little cougar), it is exceedingly slow, not just in structure, but in atmospheric pacing, with most every one of this film's 119 moving near-glacially, largely because hardly anything goes on during the 119 minutes in question. Again, we're not talking about "Hunger" in all of its "watching an abridgement of an expendable officer character's entire workday [b][u]for no reason at all[/u][/b]" non-glory, yet the film is riddled with long periods of nothingness, broken up by events that are rarely all that engaging in the first place. Needless to say, this film's formula of meandering through nothingness until we reach a typically underwhelming actual happening gets to be, not repetitious, but all-out monotonous quite quickly, and that, combined with other missteps that lead back to slowness, does serious damage to the film, which possibly would have stood a slight chance of being saved as decent if it didn't make all of the dullness that undercuts what could have made this film an engrossing one all the worse through, to put it simply, lifelessness. Again, it's not like the film is thoroughly cold, as director Peter Mullan's ambition is all but impossible to ignore, largely because it way too often sinks into overambition, and partially because there are, in fact, a few occasions in which Mullan delivers on reasonable effectiveness, or at least about as much as he can, yet on the whole, Mullan takes on the aforementioned challenge of working with an atmosphere driven by intense meditativeness and fails miserably, robbing much of the atmosphere of meditative subtlety and leaving many of the film's themes and conflicts, which seriously need to be effectively handled, to often come off as overbearing and fall-flat. The film's atmosphere is in desperate need of subtlety, something that Mullan is all too often unable too deliver on, yet such a misfire with conflict handling is merely a branch from the key flaw within the film's atmosphere and, by extension, the film itself: no juice in atmosphere. Mullan has his breakthroughs with the help of his excessive ambition, yet on the whole, whether it's attempting to establish conflict or attempting to establish the slightest bit of emotional resonance, the atmosphere turns cold, dry and dead, and because of this, the film is generally, not simply not as effective as it really does need to be, but boring as all get-out. This film is thoroughly dull, and therein rests what may very well be the key saving grace for this film: blandness so intense that the film is secured from collapse into contempt, yet make no mistake, with all of its reasonably bright occasions, this film blandly - nay - boringly betrays its ambitions and ultimately falls flat as an unrewarding bore of squandered opportunity. Overall, the film's subject matter is worthy, and ever so occasionally brought to life by reasonably effective moments through all of the ambitious pushing for bite within Peter Mullan's direction, as well as consistently complimented by performances that range from commendable to phenomenal, thus the film finds itself graced with strengths that aid in its going saved from overall badness, yet can't save the film as decent, going undercut by a monotonously do-little formula and a primarily cold atmosphere that drains life, resonance and even subtlety until "The Magdalene Sisters" ultimately falls flat an overambitious and incredibly mediocre misfire. 2/5 - Mediocre
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jan 13, 2012
    Truly shocking but not beyond the realm of possibilities within the 1960s when supposedly loose women had to be "dealt with" in some manner. The true sadness is that the institutions depicted were allowed to operate into the 90s.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 20, 2011
    Writer/Director Peter Mullan follows up his surreal and blackly humourous Scottish family drama "Orphans" with this hard-hitting account of the agonising and torturous true-story of the abuse of young women from Ireland in the name of religion. In 1960's, young women where incarcerated in a Irish convent, run by the Catholic church, for committing such 'misdeeds' as flirting with boys, becoming pregnant out of wedlock, and being raped. They are physically and psychologically abused by the head nun and her sadistic staff, who are convinced they are doing the Lord's work. Having based his screenplay on actual Magdalene inmates' experiences, Mullan achieves an authenticity of what life was like for the young women that had to endure the injustices, humiliation and brutality of these asylums. At times it's very difficult to stomach, such is the sheer power and uncompromising telling of this harrowing story and it's full of overwhelmingly excellent performances. Geraldine McEwan as Sister Bridget, the head nun, gives one of the most absolute personifications of evil ever commited to the screen and Eileen Walsh is heart-breakingly compelling as the naive, downtrodden and religiously devoted Crispina. Her performance was worthy of so much more recognition than she recieved. Speaking of which, the entire cast and crew deserved more awards attention on it's release. Had this been directed by someone with a higher profile than Mullan and his crew, this film would have been hailed as a masterpiece. As it is, it's had to rely on word-of-mouth to find an audience but this doesn't lessen the effect or superb work by everyone involved here. Mullan's direction is flawless, the cinematography by Nigel Willoughby is stark, and almost de-saturated, adding to the overall feeling of desperation and loneliness of the women and as mentioned, the performances are perfectly pitched from a largely unknown cast. It may be hard for some to accept this behaviour went on but it's even harder to accept that these asylums lasted until 1996, when the last one was finally shut down. A harrowing and emotionally charged drama that while based on fact, is highly subversive. If the Vatican condemns a film on it's release (which it did with this) then there's no doubt that you're in for a hard-hitting film. Painful, provocative and important!
    Mark W Super Reviewer
  • Nov 05, 2010
    A powerful and unflinching drama from Peter Mullan that will inevitably fascinate yet distress viewers. The film covers an interesting yet terrible period in history, its well directed, engrosses the viewers from start to finish, contains top performances from all the young cast and a fierce portrayal from Geraldine McEwan. Essential viewing!
    Shauna R Super Reviewer

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