A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The film focuses on shocking institutional abuse under the guise of religion, with those in charge cementing strong messages around sin, shame, and repentance. However, there is also the message that through resilience, determination, and self-belief adversity can be overcome.
Positive Role Models
Families are shown to have strict Catholic values, which they place before the emotional well-being of their kids. The nuns running the asylum are strict and often sadistic, appearing to revel in cruelty. The girls themselves do what they need to do to survive, but mostly keep their personal ethics intact, showing concern for others and sometimes putting themselves at risk in order to help. Bernadette expresses her anger and frustration by becoming mean and removed, stealing from and ridiculing the other girls, though reveals a softness toward the end. Bernadette, Margaret, and Rose all show determination and strong self-belief, which helps them to survive and find a sense of freedom.
The cast is exclusively White and Catholic, though this likely reflects the rural Irish setting at the time. There is some diversity in body shape, though not among the three main characters, all of whom are women with differing backstories. One character is orphaned, another is a young mother forced to give up her child, and there is some indication of differing socio-economic backgrounds. But the film is mostly set within the institution where they are stripped of personal belongings and treated with equal disdain.
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Violence & Scariness
Characters are whipped with a belt and hit with a cane, causing injuries to their face and bodies. One scene sees a character forcibly held down and their hair viciously cut with scissors, lacerating their scalp, and causing blood to run down their face. A character attempts to take their own life via hanging. There are scenes of bullying and humiliation, where girls are forced to strip naked as a group and have their bodies critically judged. Scenes involve psychological distress, with one character eventually forced into a psychological facility where their condition worsens considerably and another being forced to give up their baby. Physical fights break out and characters are slammed against walls. There is passing mention of leprosy and fingers and toes falling off. A physical illness involves blood from the nose and ears, and a dead body is shown. A rape takes place, partly off-screen. Also further acts of sexual abuse, including oral sex between a priest and teen. Reference to anorexia.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
References to sexual acts. A character lifts their skirt (away from the camera) revealing their genitals to another. There is full-frontal female nudity, although this is in a bullying rather than overtly sexual context. Male nudity is shown from behind.
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Language includes "f---ing," "shite," "bitch," and "bastard," as well as "bloody," "bleedin'," "damn," "bollocks," "arse," "c--k," and "hell." Misogynistic language includes "hooker," "whore," and "slut." Also slurs such as "simpleton" and "spastic." Characters also take religious names in vain such as "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters occasionally smoke cigarettes and alcohol is consumed at a wedding.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Magdalene Sisters is a powerful but distressing drama set in 1960s Ireland with moments of abuse -- both physical and sexual -- within the Catholic church. The story centers around a group of "fallen" women who were considered to have sinned and were therefore sent to do penance in what have now been revealed as abusive workhouse environments. Catholicism is referenced throughout, with Bible excerpts frequently read aloud, and sin and shame referenced multiple times. Scenes involve humiliation and bullying, as well as intense violence, including being whipped with belts and having hair cut viciously from scalps. There are also scenes of rape, sexual abuse, and attempted suicide. Strong language includes "f---ing," "shite," and "bitch," as well as sexist terms such as "whore" and "slut." There are upsetting scenes involving a young mother being forced to give her baby up for adoption and a character being dragged to a psychological facility. Anorexia is mentioned in information that flashes up on the screen toward the end, as well as troubling statistics about the asylums running until the mid '90s and incarcerating an estimated 30,000 women in total. This is a powerful film with strong adult themes that would likely be distressing for younger viewers. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
That such asylums existed in real life gives this powerful drama an even more sinister edge. The Magdalene Sisters invites viewers to contemplate what happened to young women in Ireland in the name of religion and respectability right up to the mid '90s -- and no doubt beyond. Writer and director Peter Mullan frames the drama in a matter-of-fact way that lets the strong performances hit hard without drawing away from the grim reality. It's a film with something important to say that balances anger, emotional intimacy and restraint to incredibly strong effect.
As the three central characters, Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, and Dorothy Duffy are perfectly cast, giving sympathetic, complex performances, playing out internal conflicts and the trauma of the experience while refusing to be broken. As fellow "inmate" Crispina, Eileen Walsh is a stand-out, with a frenetic energy that heightens the tension and sense of psychological distress bubbling beneath the surface in every scene she's in. Geraldine McEwan is the stuff of nightmares as Sister Bridget, absolute venom in her words and looks, and a mask-like smile hungry with malevolence. It's definitely a film reliant on the impact of its believable performances, and none disappoint. The Magdalene Sisters is an intense watch, but one that allows its central characters a sense of hope and power, even amid the atrocities.
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