The Magdalene Sisters (2002) from Tuna

The Magdalene Sisters (2002) is a joint Irish-Scottish production which dramatizes the Catholic abuse of women in Ireland throughout the 20th century. The era was marked by three vestigial philosophies from previous centuries:

  • Church law mostly took precedence over civil law

  • sex outside of marriage was a mortal sin

  • sex was always the fault of the girl.

Three girls are introduced at the beginning of the film, each of whom is being punished for a sexual activity of some kind. One is raped by her cousin, and tells about it. The second is an orphan, and flirts with neighborhood boys over the fence. The third has had an illegitimate baby who was taken from her and put out for adoption. All three girls are placed under the care of the Magdalene Sisters, who force the girls to do all the work of running a laundry service while enduring very strict discipline and other indignities.


All of the nudity is in one scene, where a dorm full of girls is lined up nude in the shower while the nuns decide which has the biggest breasts, biggest buns, and hairiest bush.  I was able to identify Eileen Walsh and Nora-Jane Noone, although all the girls show full frontal.

The three girls never quite resign themselves to their fate.

The Catholic church was not overjoyed at this film, but it is essentially a true story, although it may have been exaggerated here and there.  It is estimated that 30,000 women were imprisoned in similar situations up until very recent times. The last nunnery was not closed until 1996!

This is not a pleasant film to watch. It is, however, a very effective one for those who prefer serious thought and a heavy dose of the unpleasant truth in their movie experience.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three and a quarter stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4.

  • General UK consensus: also three and a quarter stars. Mail 8/10, Telegraph 7/10, Independent 8/10, Guardian 10/10, Times 8/10, Sun 7/10, Express 10/10, The Mirror 6/10, BBC 4/5

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $4.8 million in the USA in nationwide arthouse distribution (295 screens). Despite numerous award nominations and excellent reviews in the UK, it grossed only about $2 million there.

Awards ...

  • It won best ensemble cast from the British Independent Film awards, and was nominated for the best screenplay award and the best British film award at the BAFTAs.

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Narrow target market, but very effective film for those audiences seeking thoughtful, realistic drama.

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