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The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

R  |   |  Drama  |  29 August 2003 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 20,984 users   Metascore: 83/100
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Three young Irish women struggle to maintain their spirits while they endure dehumanizing abuse as inmates of a Magdalene Sisters Asylum.



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Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 18 wins & 13 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Rose / Patricia
Britta Smith ...
Sister Jude
Eithne McGuinness ...
Sister Clementine
Phyllis MacMahon ...
Sister Augusta (as Phyllis McMahon)
Rebecca Walsh ...
Brendan (as Chris Simpson)
Sean Colgan ...
Daniel Costello ...
Father Fitzroy


A thoroughly mind-provoking film about 3 young women who, under tragic circumstances, see themselves cast away to a Magdalene Asylum for young women in 1964. One of many like institutions, the asylums are run like prisons and young girls are forced to do workhouse laundry and hard labor. The asylum, one of many that existed in theocratic Catholic Ireland, is for supposedly 'fallen' women. Here, young girls are imprisoned indefinitely and endure agonizing punishments and a long, harsh working system which leaves them physically drained and mentally damaged. As the girls bond together, it soon becomes clear that the only way out of the Magdalene convent is to escape, but with twisted Sister Bridget running the wing, any chances seem limited... Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The triumphant story of three women who found the courage to defy a century of injustice. See more »



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for violence/cruelty, nudity, sexual content and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

29 August 2003 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Die unbarmherzigen Schwestern  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

£88,315 (UK) (1 November 2002)


$4,890,878 (USA) (21 November 2003)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The film was "inspired by the documentary Sex in a Cold Climate (1998) produced and directed by Steve Humphries." See more »


The guitar the man plays at the beginning of the film is a Taylor acoustic guitar. Taylor Guitars was not established until 1974. See more »


[first lines]
Margaret: Well, what is it you're wanting to show me? Come on, Kevin, what's the secret?
See more »

Crazy Credits

Special thanks to ... all at the Glasgow Film Office. See more »


References Once Upon a Time in America (1984) See more »


God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Traditional Christmas carol
Sung off-screen by an unidentified man (possibly Ford Kiernan) with chorus
See more »

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User Reviews

One of the better films of the year; Bergman goes to Ireland, you could say...
3 October 2004 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Magdalene Sisters is one of the better movies of the year. It holds within it such emotional girth, such a sympathy with these girls and what they go through in such a society that holds the Catholic belief system as the absolute truth, that by the time you leave the theater, like it or dis-like it, you'll feel drained. Along with a heart-wrenching relentlessness by writer/director Peter Mullan in revealing the details of the nun's cruelty and coldness, there are a number of very good performances here. Geraldine McEwan's Sister Bridget, head Sister of the Magdalene reformatory, is on par with Nurse Ratched for being one of the most frightening of dominating female figures; Eileen Walsh's Crispina/Harriet is possibly the most touching of the lot of imprisoned women and could garner an Oscar nomination; Nora-Jane No one's Bernadette is a true balancing act between rebellious spirit and trapped creature; and the other players, including Anne-Marrie Duff and Dorothy Duffy add splendid supporting work.

As fellow film connoisseurs know, Ingmar Bergman was renown for most of his films dealing with faith, the loss of it, and/or the absence of God and the pain that seeps through in living in such a world that doesn't question it. While these questions weren't as forward and evident in this film as they were in Bergman's masterpieces, often Mullan subtly brings these questions to light as the film progresses: if God is pounded over and over and over into these girl's heads, that they are here because they need to repent for their "mortal sins" (such as being raped, flirting, having children out of wedlock), and they are subjected to physical, sexual, and mental abuse by those who should be compassionate, life-long devotees to the faith, where is God? This question actually comes to a big head in a scene that at first shows itself to be rather amusing when a priest gets a poison Ivy rash, and then Crispina, who got it from him in the worst way, shouts out over and over 'YOU ARE NOT A MAN OF GOD!', and thus is silenced away to a mental asylum. Indeed, this is the part of the film where the question gets the most light, and it's the most harrowing scene in the movie among others and is one of the most powerful in movies this year.

The only liability is the climatic ending to which is something against a Bergman=esque logic, and while I won't reveal it here, it tends to go to an (appropriate) timing that's akin to Cuckoo's Nest. Personally, I felt the film should have ended with the Bergman logic instead of the Kesey spirit, but that's neither here nor there, since the bulk of the film in and of itself is contains some passionate drama, and to those who see it will not only get an eye-opening view to the old-time (if old-time is up until seven years ago) Catholic ways, but also to the great dangers of control over human life.

27 of 40 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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