Short story: PLEASE watch both the movie and the documentary. NOT FOR CHILDREN.
(NOTE: I'm not sure I'm very good at "official" reviews, so I'll probably end up telling about this movie the way I'd describe a book to a friend.)
"The Magdalene Sisters" is based on a documentary, "Sex in a Cold Climate" - the DVD includes the documentary). The movie reflects not only the truth that "power corrupts - and absolute power corrupts absolutely", it also reflects the era of the time, when victims were blamed for their own rapes, when girls were "gotten rid of" for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, but the boys got off with nothing, when beauty was looked on with suspicion.
It's the story of four women who were incarcerated for forced labor in a "Magdalene asylum" in the 1960's. One woman was sent there by her father because she had a child out of wedlock, another was sent there after being raped, the third was sent there because she was pretty and the fourth (appearing to be mildly mentally impaired) also had a baby out of wedlock. The nun in charge of the laundry bluntly told the girls when they arrived (I'm paraphrasing): The philosophy here is simple. Your sins will be purged through the washing of laundry. By doing penance here, you will earn your salvation.
They quickly learned that escape was not just difficult, it was nearly impossible. One scene showed an escapee who ran to her home, only to be returned by her angry father. She begged, "I just want to go home." He beat her with a belt, yelling, "You have no home! You have no parents! You killed them!" This girl eventually became a nun and joined the order, the only safe place. When Bernadette tried to escape, she was beaten and her hair was shorn. Sister Brigid forced her to look into a mirror, blood running in her eyes - "you're not so pretty now!"
In a nutshell, "The Magdalene Sisters" showed works-based salvation taken to extreme. The emphasis was all on working off your own sin and earning your salvation through your own work and suffering.
It is a difficult movie to watch and I had to take a couple of breaks. I watched the movie before the documentary and immediately called the friend that told me to watch it and asked, "It said *based* on the true story. Is the story true or are these 4 women true." He said, "Yes." There are a few additions to "flesh out" the attitudes and actions within the asylums - but there was stuff that was left out also that would have made a great emotional impact on any feeling human being watching. Nothing that contradicted the documentary.
Next up: the history...