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"The Magdalene Sisters"

Directed by Peter Mullan.
Written by Peter Mullan. 
Starring Nora-Jane Noone, Anne-Marie Duff and Dorothy Duffy.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  8/22/03 


Summer’s winding down, but I’m hitting flicks like the Red Sox are losing baseball games--all the damn time!

“The Magdalene Sisters” is flat-out solid.  I’ll admit that I was thinking this would turn into “Women in Prison 8: The Irish Years” from the trailer, but the film--based on a true story of religiously-run laundries in the second half of the 20th century--just puts you there and makes you shake your head in wonderment; I kept thinking “How could folks let places like this exist in the modern day?”

But, there it is for all to see--girls like Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone), Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) and Rose (Dorothy Duffy) committed sins in their teenage years growing up in Ireland and were sent by their devout Catholic parents to a place where they would “atone” for these mistakes…by being slaves for an evil set of nuns that put them to work every single day without pay in a secluded laundry house that doubled as a confessional.  Oh, and one more thing--you’re never allowed to leave unless you a) join a local Convent, b) get married and become “respectable” (with no way to meet men, this was REAL tough), or c) die.  The way the film tells it, there were some women in these things for a couple decades; the three women in the main crux of the story are not having any of that, so they try to figure out a way out of the laundry before their lives slip away in this virtual prison.

I think the best thing about “The Magdalene Sisters” was the direction by Peter Mullan (a noted actor, he appeared in “Trainspotting”), who makes every single scene with the women working look as depressing as it must have felt.  Harrowing sequences where the women are put down by their oppressors (nuns, for Chrissakes!) bring you down like it surely would have brought the women down, especially when two of the nuns make the girls exercise in the nude and then actually go down and nominate some of them as having the biggest buttocks, the most fat, and the largest rack!  I was sitting there like “Damn!!  I thought Hedonism was rough…”  The performances by the girls involved are fantastic, but Geraldine McEwan takes the cake as evil headmistress Sister Bridget; she reminds you of the sassy Maggie Smith from her part in “Gosford Park”, but McEwan is MUCH better at doing evil in this film, mostly because she gets to lash girls that oppose her and look down her nose at the girls in her laundry.  So good.

Really not a bad thing to say here.  This film lost out to “The Warrior” for Best British Film last year; of course, “Bend It Like Beckham” and “The Hours” lost as well, both solid films.  Check this one out if it’s available in your area.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09