Gospel according to Peter
by Valeria Chiari
- The Scottish director’s 2nd feature, The Magdalene Sisters, points a courageous finger at the cruelty of one of Catholic Ireland’s most respected institutions
It is likely that no prison was ever as unfair or downright cruel as that established by the Catholic Church in 19th century Ireland. The Magdalene Institutes were created at a time of extreme poverty, when the Irish never wavered from their strict observation of all the Church’s dictates and rules. Fortunately the Institutes no longer exist; they were swept away on the eve of the 21st century but at the height of their power, they were a “home” to hundreds of young women who’d been thrown out by their families; “guilty” of being the victims of rape, or having born a child out of wedlock. Actor and director Peter Mullan’s second feature, The Magdalene Sisters [+see also:
film profile], explores these recent events with a sharp eye and even sharper tongue to portray the physical and mental abuse experienced by hundreds of young women who spent their lives as the servants of God - in a nightmare setting that wouldn’t be out of place in the Middle Ages. “I am a Catholic too. My soul was consecrated to God when I was just two weeks old and when I grew up and decided to help those less fortunate that myself, I came into contact with a number of convents. I worked closely with a nun at a women’s centre and can say that she has to be the most evil woman I have ever encountered. She used this gentle little voice of hers to say the most viciously cruel things imaginable.”
Mullan, the director of Orphans and the prize-winning star of My Name is Joe was inspired to make The Magdalene Sisters after watching a documentary on Channel 4. He uses this film to point a courageous finger at “the reality of a Church that appears to have lost all compassion and which would do well to think about what it did during the 20th century before getting on with the 21st.” This Scottish director brought together an extraordinary cast of Irish actresses and, taking a leaf out of Ken Loach’s book, shot the whole film in sequence, “A way of maintaining the intensity of the acting”. This tale is not the exclusive domain of Ireland or Scotland; it could happen anywhere. “It was while I was making this film that I realised just how similar the Catholic Church is to Islam,” said Mullan. “All these powerful religions share the belief that women alone are responsible for sin, and they make them pay for it with violence.”
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