Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Dissenting Voice; This Weekend the Magdalene Sisters Won the Top Prize at the Venice Film Festival - and Outraged the Catholic Church. Its Director, Peter Mullan, Is as Unsurprised as He Is Unrepentant

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Dissenting Voice; This Weekend the Magdalene Sisters Won the Top Prize at the Venice Film Festival - and Outraged the Catholic Church. Its Director, Peter Mullan, Is as Unsurprised as He Is Unrepentant

Article excerpt

Byline: SHEILA JOHNSTON

THREE years ago, actor Peter Mullan was in Italy holding a press conference for Orphans, his first film as director.

"I'd done 50 interviews and I was exhausted," he recalls.

As everyone stood up to leave, there was one last question: what was his next project? Mullan started talking, with increasing excitement and animation, about a little-known modern scandal involving the near-slavery of thousands of women. The journalists drifted back into the room, astonished.

On Sunday, the director was back in Italy to accept the Golden Lion award for best film in Venice for the finished movie, The Magdalene Sisters. It was a popular win for a work universally admired by critics - including Alexander Walker, who reviewed it last week on these pages. A notable dissenting voice came from the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. Its review attacked the film as an "angry and rancorous provocation...incautiously allowed to pass as a work of art".

The Church has good reason to be unhappy. Set in rural Ireland in 1964, The Magdalene Sisters depicts one of the Dickensian institutions run there by nuns for so-called "fallen women". An estimated 30,000 women were detained in them before the last was closed down as late as 1996.

"They were workhouses," Mullan explains. "You worked in the laundry where you could literally wash the stains off your soul.

Conveniently, the Sisters of Mercy would provide you with the materials to do it from local hospitals and schools. They sold your labour and you never saw a penny. You were kept under lock and key, humiliated, abused, raped - often priests would see you as easy prey."

Mullan, 41, was inspired to make the film after seeing a Channel 4 documentary, Sex in a Cold Climate.

"I was weeping at the end of it," he recalls. But there was also something much more emotional at stake: his personal memories of growing up in Glasgow's Catholic community. "My mother worked in Nazareth House, a children's home.

There were things we knew about, things not right there, though they've never been prosecuted. I remember as a kid the priest coming round the door, just to pull up any of us. …

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