starring Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy
written and directed by Peter Mullan
by Walter Chaw Most discussions of Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters will probably focus on the extent to which the story that it relates is inspired by truth; the Catholic Church has been predictably swift in its blanket condemnation, while the film's supporters have presented actual "Magdalene Laundry" survivors who attest that the reality was actually much grimmer. The skeleton truth of the film, then, falls somewhere between those extremes, and its presentation, likewise, vacillates between elegant reserve and keening hysteria. The picture is a fictional treatment of the forced labour of tens of thousands of "wayward" girls in the convents of the Irish Catholic order of the Sisters of the Magdalene--compelled through intimidation and abuse to literally wash their sins away with backbreaking work scrubbing butcher's whites and the like under Dickensian conditions. When it works (as in a prologue and conclusion that mute dialogue in an approximation of collective guilt), it works on the strength of Mullan's smooth visual sensibility and narrative acumen. And when it doesn't work (as in a subplot concerning a priest stridently not a "man of God"), the film tends to grate and, worse, cast doubt on the extent to which Mullan's willing to go to take sides on his subject.