Top prizewinner at the 2002 Venice festival, Mullan's film is a devastating critique of Roman Catholic repression, as commonly practised in Ireland in the very recent past. Set in the mid-1960s, it follows a handful of teenage girls committed to a Magdalene laundry, a correctional institution which promises 'purification' - though for Mullan it's closer to an asylum or the gulags. Their sins? To have been raped, or fallen pregnant out of marriage, or simply to have flirted with boys. McEwan is Sister Bridget, who will beat a difficult charge without mercy, then shed buckets of tears at The Bells of St Mary's. It's a note-perfect portrait of the smallness of Evil. Newcomer Nora Jane Noone is no less impressive in perhaps the most difficult, most conflicted role. Her Bernadette is a live intelligence struggling to survive in a world where the virtuous create Hell on Earth. This tremendous piece of cinema more than confirms Mullan's promise - and you may never look at a nun the same way again.
Cast and crew
Anne-Marie Duff Eithne McGuinness Eamonn Owens Rebecca Walsh Phyllis McMahon Dorothy Duffy Geraldine McEwan Peter Mullan Eileen Walsh Britta Smith Daniel Costello Frances Healy Nora Jane Noone Mary Murray