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Film: The Magdalene Sisters

The Magdalene Sisters is an Irish drama film directed by Peter Mullan. It was inspired by the documentary Sex In A Cold Climate and delves into one of the darker parts of Ireland's history - the Magdalene laundries. The laundries were originally established in Victorian times as a place to shelter women deemed "fallen" by society and they eventually evolved into places where any woman who was deemed corrupt by the Church was sent there for the rest of her life. The women were put to work in the laundries and kept under the supervision of nuns who punished them cruelly. The only way to leave the laundry was for two men over 18 to sign the woman out.

This film follows four women in one of the laundries in the 1960s. We have Margaret, a woman raped by her cousin at a wedding and sent there because she is no longer a virgin. There's Rose who has just had a baby out of wedlock, being forced to put him up for adoption before being sent away. Bernadette is a teenage orphan sent to the laundry because she was thought to be too flirtatious with some of the local boys and, unlike the other girls, she is still a virgin. There's Crispina, sent to the laundry years ago for having a baby out of wedlock and is now quite unstable. The entire laundry is run by the malevolent Sister Bridget.

This film provides examples of:

  • The Alcatraz: Subverted. The laundry is easily accessible and on the edge of a town. The girls are only kept in their room with a chair in front of the door (though they do eventually fit a lock on it). There's even a back gate, but the girls are kept in there through Stockholm Syndrome and the knowledge that the world wouldn't accept them if they did escape.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Sister Bridget believes this, claiming that Bernadette was sent to the laundry to avoid tempting men because of her looks.
  • Amulet of Dependency: Crispina's St Christopher medal. She believes it helps her communicate with her son.
  • Battering Ram: Rose and Bernadette improvise one with a bed to escape their dormitory room.
  • Beautiful All Along: When Rose and Bernadette escape from the laundry, Bernadette's cousin gives them both a bit of a makeover. The difference in Rose is startling.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Discussed by Bernadette and two little girls. Bernadette theorises that since the Virgin Mary is beautiful then it's not a sin. She then says it's a sin to be vain.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sister Bridget. To the world she's a kindly elderly lady while to the girls she's the devil.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bernadette, Rose and Margaret all get to leave the laundry but are traumatised by their experiences, though they do lead full lives. However the rest of the girls and hundreds more endure life in the laundry and Crispina dies of anorexia in the asylum she is sent to. It's then revealed that the last laundry closed in 1996.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Blonde Rose, dark brown Bernadette, reddish-brown Margaret and black haired Crispina. There's also a red haired girl whose name is never mentioned.
  • Break the Cutie: Rose. Crispina is already broken at this point.
    • Implied to have happened to Katy as well. She's basically been there so long that she has long since given up hope of ever getting out and willfully rats out Bernadette when she tries to escape the first time.
  • Break the Haughty: Sister Bridget tries to do this to Bernadette.
  • By The Hair: Our introduction to Una is her father dragging her back into the dormitory by her hair.
  • Call Back: Their first night in the laundry, Bernadette and Rose talk in the bathroom. When they are in the same place again they plot to escape.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The key to the safe.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Bernadette mentions she has a cousin who's a hairdresser. She and Rose go to the cousin for help after escaping.
    • Similarly Margaret's brother is in one scene at the start but then reappears to sign Margaret out of the laundry.
  • Church Militant: Sadly, Truth in Television.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The girls in the laundry all wear the same drab green uniform, the nuns all wear black and the girls wear blue whenever they are out in the town.
  • Crapsack World: The laundry and really the entire country when you consider that there were dozens more.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Played with. Una's family disown her so she ends up taking vows to become a nun herself.
  • Driven to Suicide: Crispina after she loses her St Christopher medal. She sleeps on wet sheets to make herself sick and tries to hang herself in the dormitory. Her Where Are They Now text states that she later dies of anorexia.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Bernadette gets her hair cut off by sister Bridget and then a montage is shown, by the end of it Bernadette's hair has grown back. After Crispina is taken away it is even longer. Una's hair also grows back.
  • Fan Disservice: The nuns make all the girls strip off their clothes and perform exercises while they judge who has the biggest breasts, hairiest area and other unpleasant things. Also the priest stripping naked in the middle of a sermon.
  • Hypocrite: Several of the nuns. Sister Bridget, in particular, preaches against earthly pleasures while pocketing most of the laundry's profits.
  • I Have No Daughter: Una's father tells her this before he abandons her in the laundry.
  • Ironic Nickname: Crispina means "girl with the curly hair" and Crispina's hair isn't curly.
    • The nuns gave her the name Crispina; it's not her real name. And they're not talking about the hair on her head...
  • Humiliation Conga: An example that turns sour halfway through. The priest gets poison oak put in his clothes by Margaret. The itching kicks in during a public sermon and he strips off his clothes and runs off into town. It then turns out Crispina has the same rashes on her thighs, revealing she was molested.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Bernadette. She is capable of sympathy and compassion, but her spiteful actions towards Crispina and her Kick the Dog moment with Katy shows she has a very harsh side.
  • Karma Houdini: Margaret's cousin rapes her and she ends up being punished. Granted we never find out what happened to him but it still fits this trope. Sister Bridget also likely stayed at the laundry and kept running it the same way for years.
  • Kick the Dog: Sister Bridget loves to do this. She laughs cruelly at Una as she tries to pick up her cut off hair. Also she hits Rose when she asks if she can send a birthday card to her son.
  • Kissing Cousins: Margaret and Kevin at the start, though Margaret is extremely squicked out when it happens.
  • Knight Templar: Sister Bridget.
  • Made a Slave
  • Money, Dear Boy: Sister Bridget lets Bernadette and Rose escape when Rose gives her the key to the safe with all the laundry's money in it.
  • Mood Whiplash: The humourous scene of the Parish priest stripping off and running away naked because Margaret put poison oak in his clothes takes a sharp u-turn when Crispina reveals she has the same rashes around her thighs, implying the priest molested her.
  • Oh Crap: Margaret when she sees her sister telling her father that she's just been raped. Bernadette when the nuns discover her trying to escape.
  • Oireland: Averted with a cast of Irish actors though the woman Katy slips into this, attacking her "o"s and "u"s rather fiercely.
  • One Steve Limit: Sister Bridget enforces this. There's already a Rose in the laundry so Sister Bridget forces everyone to call Rose Patricia (her middle name). Crispina's real name is Harriett so this may apply to her as well.
  • Parental Abandonment: And how. Rose's mother won't even speak to her when she's had her baby, Margaret's father sends her away and Una's father drags her back into the laundry by her hair when she escapes, saying she has no family left.
  • Pet the Dog: At Christmas all the girls in the laundry are allowed to watch a film (though most of them are bored by it) and they also each get an orange laid on their bed.
  • Rape as Drama: Margaret's cousin rapes her in the opening scene. Given the time period, Margaret is blamed for this and is sent to the laundry.
  • Really Gets Around: Bernadette is implied to be this, flirting with a few local boys, but it turns out she's still a virgin.
  • Shaking Her Hair Loose: Bernadette at the end when she sees two nuns (not ones from the laundry) looking at her on the street.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: There's a huge difference when we see Rose and Bernadette all cleaned up at the end.
  • Sinister Minister: The Parish priest turns out to be molesting Crispina.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse
  • Stepford Smiler: Sister Bridget is a type C while all the girls in the laundry are type As, most visible when they walk through town smiling to onlookers.
  • Technology Marches On: When the girls are first brought to the laundry, all the washing is done by hand. Over the course of the movie, washing machines are purchased (A technology that helped a lot in finally doing in these hellholes by its rise as a common household appliance destroying the consumer market for commercial laundries). Also, the nuns keep the profits in biscuit tins early on and Sister Bridget is exasperated when she can't find the key to the safe that is later added to her office.
  • The Dog Bites Back: When the nuns were abusing the poor girls they obviously didn't bank on Bernadette chasing after them screaming while brandishing a candlestick.
  • Traumatic Haircut: This is the punishment for trying to escape the laundry. Happens to Una and later Bernadette.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Brendan is last seen driving away in the back of the delivery van, with no explanation of what happened to him.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Which includes the ultimate final outrage of these self-righteous gulags; the final ones were only closed in 1996.


Lone Star State of MindFilms of 2000 - 2004 Maid In Manhattan

alternative title(s): The Magdalene Sisters
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