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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 13:12 GMT
Irish flock to church row film
The Magdalene Sisters
Irish filmgoers are flocking to see the movie
A harrowing film which depicts girls being abused by nuns at Catholic convents in Ireland in the 1960s is proving a big draw at Irish cinemas.

Director Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters made more than 250,000 in its first two weeks at cinemas throughout the Republic.

The film, which opens in the UK in February, was condemned by the Vatican and sections of the Catholic community after winning this year's Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

It portrays the experiences of girls at Ireland's Magdalene laundries, which housed young women who were often cast aside by their families.

The Magdalene Sisters
The film is a bleak portrayal of life inside the convents
The Magdalene institutions admitted women who may have been orphaned, had children outside marriage, or even those who were said to be "too pretty".

The film paints a bleak picture of the asylums, which it says committed acts of brutality and degradation against residents.

lt appears to have struck a chord among Irish cinemagoers who have flocked to see it during its opening two-week run.

Miriam Donohoe, a columnist for the Irish Times in Dublin, said she found it a "powerful and depressing" experience.

'Cruel'

She said: "I was shocked by the film.

"I came away from it feeling very angry that thousands of young Irish girls over several decades had gone through the hands of nuns who were so cruel and who treated them so badly.


The Catholic church has been in total denial and it's absolutely appalling that it's still in denial today

Miriam Donohoe Irish Times

"I saw it with my mother who grew up in rural Ireland in the 30s, and she was absolutely horrified and angry at what she saw.

"She remembers girls in her parish who disappeared after they may have got pregnant, or been flirting, and got sent off to a place like the Magdalene institution."

Ms Donohoe said the film had been released at a time when Ireland was already reeling from the impact of an alleged sex abuse scandal involving Catholic priests.

"The Catholic church has been in total denial and it's absolutely appalling that it's still in denial today."

Debate

The film's distributor, Momentum Pictures, is delighted at its brisk business.

Peter Mullan and Gong Li
Peter Mullan received the Golden Lion at Venice

"It's doing very well and it's encouraging debate, which is fantastic," said spokeswoman Emma Griffiths.

Following the film's success at Venice, Vatican Radio - which transmits speeches by the Pope - said its narrative was "clearly false".

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

Mullan has defended his work, saying the church should face up to its past and the cruelty dished out by nuns in Irish asylums.

He says it is based on true events which formed "one of the great injustices of the second half of the 20th Century".


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