Friday, July 30, 2010

The Magdalene Sisters

Years ago, I saw an expose of the Magdalene Laundries on 60 Minutes. My friend Jeff saw it, too (we lived across Second Avenue from each other then). He thought I should try to get the U.S. rights to it- that it would make a great play. I told him I thought they were gone (which they were). In retrospect, I think of the revelations about the Magdalene Laundries as the beginning of the implosion of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
But it wasn't until this week that I saw writer/director Peter Mullens' film "The Magdalene Sisters." The usually whimsical Geraldine McEwan stars as Sister Bridget, the nun in charge of this asylum. The film follows the fates of three women incarcerated in the asylum. By the end of the film, two escape, and one is in an insane asylum. Also on the DVD is Sex in a Cold Climate, the documentary that the film is based on. One statistic I made note of is that an estimated 30,000 women passed through these laundries in the course of their existence. It didn't take much to get put one; one character gets sent to the laundry from an orphanage because she's just too pretty.
Even one of these films (I watched both in one night) is a lot to take. I couldn't have lived with any of this long enough to write a play about it. The screenplay is great, and the performances are good. But half an hour into it, I was overwhelmed with the despair and grief and oppression that these women lived with. I wouldn't advise watching it unless you're not feeling at all depressed.