The Magdalene Sisters
- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jan
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is voicing objections: "To be sure, conditions were harsh by today's standards but they were not uncommon in their day. Historians have recounted how Protestant-run institutions were similar."
But Peter Malone, author of several books on film and faith and president of SIGNIS, the international Catholic association for communication, defends the film. "Mullan … has made an expertly-crafted but grim film. The film will certainly cause sadness in audiences who have been disturbed by the experiences of the 1990s, the revelations, the court cases, and sentences. It will cause sadness for those who have positive memories of education by sisters and for those who want to see pleasant images of the church and church personnel. However, this story, which makes more impact perhaps because it is being seen rather than merely being read, is no less true than many of the recent stories that have been reported even in the Catholic press. Most audiences will appreciate, as they would with a film criticizing the police or politicians, that the majority of members of the profession did not act in this way.
In this time when the news is focused on gross abuses that have taken place behind the concealing walls of churches, is it wise to claim defamation? Better we face up to the sins of the past, acknowledge that the church is made up of sinners, and point to the true source of cleansing, forgiveness, healing, and hope.
The film played over the weekend at the New York Film Festival. More reviews can be found here.
It is based on a true story, won last year's Golden Lion award at the Venice International Film Festival, and was snatched up by Miramax for distribution. And now that it is opening in theatres across the country, mainstream critics are raving that
But not everyone is so pleased. Director Peter Mullan's film about the abuses suffered by young women at the hands of some harsh and unforgiving Irish Catholics has the Catholic League and many other religious press media critics calling it exaggerated, unfair, and cruel in its own right.
Movies that vilify people of faith usually get mixed reactions from the religious media. Frequently there are some who take offense, preferring to have believers shown in a flattering light. Others recognize that religious folk are as capable of sin as everyone else, and find honesty to be the best policy. In the case of
Steve Parish (The Film Forum) calls protesters daft. "There are plenty of feel-good movies in theatres," he says. "But if you need to feel bad, particularly at the inhumanity of the Christian church—in this case Irish Catholicism—then
Finding himself harassed and accused of anti-church attitudes, Rex Reed (New York Observer) defends his admiration for the film: "Why is it that every time I write objectively about movies or plays or museums courageous enough to take on religious infractions, question the sanity of religious myths and mind control, or treat anything involving the Catholic church with a sense of curiosity or humor, I am suddenly deluged with volumes of organized hate mail? When do these people get a life and focus on the real world? The Catholic Church has a lot to answer for … [
Film critic Steven Greydanus (Decent Films) responded to this article in an online discussion: "The [Roman] Catholic Church has shown itself able to deal with decidedly mixed and even highly critical depictions of hierarchy and religious figures. The Vatican list of notable important films includes such hierarchy-indicting titles as
David Sterritt (The Christian Science Monitor) disagrees: "
(Film Forum earlier noted the film in September 2002, and Philip Yancey recently commented on it in one of his
This week, Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) posted his in-depth review of Peter Mullan's
Another religious press film critic has joined the chorus of harsh criticism for Peter Mullan's Catholic-bashing film
Frederica Matthews-Green (Our Sunday Visitor) speaks out against the film's exaggerated and obvious bias against Catholics: "
If you are interested in the film, you may want to revisit Phillip Yancey's thoughts on "the Maggies," which were posted back in May.
Peter T. Chattaway reviews