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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Vatican Radio attacks Venice victor
The Magdalene Sisters
Peter Mullan says the film is based on "true events"
Vatican Radio has waded into the row over the controversial winning film at the Venice Film Festival which depicts nuns abusing young girls.

The Magdalene Sisters picked up the Golden Lion award at the prestigious festival but has faced a barrage of criticism from sections of the Catholic community.

Mullan himself has come out and said the church should face up to its past and the cruelty dished out by nuns in Irish asylums.

But Vatican Radio, which transmits speeches by the Pope, said the film's narrative was "clearly false" and criticised the festival jury for awarding it the top prize.

Peter Mullan and Gong Li
Peter Mullan was given the Golden Lion award by jury head Gong Li
The film is based on what Mullan calls "true events", saying he was not imaginative enough to dream up such scandals.

But Vatican Radio says the Scottish director has gone too far and sees the film as likening the Catholic Church to the Taliban.

"Awarding top honours to Magdalene was the most offensive and pathetic page written by the jury," the station said.

Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano had already described the film as an "angry and rancorous provocation".

Set in the 1960s, the film tells the story of one of the Magdalene convents, which were run on behalf of the Catholic Church, and the treatment girls endured during their stay.

It is widely documented that women were admitted for reasons such as being orphans or for having children out of wedlock.

Coalition

Mullan got the idea of making a film after watching a documentary on women who were subjected to physical and mental abuse but still managed to offer some resistance.

Vatican Radio has also hit out at critics who have hailed the film, saying: "A coalition of so-called critics ... have put their act together to hype up a clearly false movie."

The Magdalene Sisters
The film has been hailed by critics
But Mullan is undeterred in his criticism of the Catholic Church for what he calls "one of the great injustices of the second half of the 20th century".

"I'm disappointed at the announcement that they have made is that it is all lies, that it never happened," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"That's something I'm very, very surprised at - I really thought they would have at least the courage to own up to the fact that these things did go on."

Mullan shot to fame as an actor in Ken Loach's My Name is Joe, and won best actor at the 1998 Cannes film festival.

He has also had critical success as a director with his bleak, surreal Orphans.


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