Movie Recommendation: The Magdalene Sisters (2002)


Margareth: Where have you been these four years? (being led away from the asylum by her younger brother who requested her release)

Brother: What are you talking about?!  I was growing up!

Margareth: Well, you didn’t grow up fast enough, did you?


Topics explored: #genderviolence, #forcedlabour, #religion #sexualpromiscuity

Inspired by real life events, The Magdalene Sisters (2002) provide an accurate, yet saddening, portrayal of the Magdalene Asylums.

The Magdalene Asylums were a catholic ran and state supported institution, which operated in Ireland in the 18th and 20th century.

These institutions, also known as the Magdalene Laundries, held thousands of young women captive for a life of unpaid manual labour and religious devotion.

They first came under scrutiny in 1993 when a mass grave of 150 corpses were discovered in one of the asylums. Private investigations led by the media resulted in the uncovering of serious human rights violations. Ireland has susbsequentially paid 50 million pounds in compensation to the victims.

This British drama film directed by Peter Manon revolves around the lives of three

Promotional Poster, The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

fictional characters: Rose, who birthed a child out of wedlock; Margareth who was raped at a family celebration and Bernadette, a flirty orphan, raised in a children’s home.

True to victim testimony, young women were usually sent by their male family members to these institutions to redeem themselves for moral transgressions of a sexual nature. They were referred to as ‘fallen women’. Their “crimes”? ‘Sexual promiscuity’. In the begining the Magdalene Asylums mostly targeted prostitutes. But, overtime the term ‘fallen women’ was expanded to include unwed mothers, lesbians, rape victims, ‘flirty’ women or any woman who did not abide by the strict Irish moral code. And so did the asylums expand the scope of their victims.

The Catholic nuns, who ran the covents, ran them on a strict terror regime. They physically assaulted, degraded and forced the women to do unpaid heavy manual labour. Away from prying eyes and within the confinement of the asylums, they reigned supreme and subjected the young women, under their care, to inhumane treatment and slavery.

This movie is a great starting point for those interested in understanding the effects of patriarchy in the dehumanisation of women. The movie also portrays issues concerning  religious guardianship of vulnerable people, the double victimisation of sexual abuse survivors and the unfair burden of sexuality in women.

This movie is available to watch in streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Youtube Movies.


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