Tag Archives: Peter Mullan

The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

magdalene

Never wanted to kick a nun in the face? Think again.

Now I am sure there are many decent, loving, and compassionate nuns in the Catholic Church who live by Christ’s example, but they’re nowhere to be found in actor/director Peter Mullan’s unrelentingly bleak drama, The Magdalene Sisters. Three young Irish women are sent to a brutal convent where they are subject to myriad humiliations and made to work night and day in the laundries for no pay.

These are the heroines’ crimes. Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) got raped. Rose (Dorothy Duffy) got pregnant. Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) flirted with some boys over the fence of the orphanage where she has been placed indefinitely. For these ‘crimes’ the trio are considered fallen women, but you’d think fallen women would at least get to have more fun then these girls do. Degraded, bullied, and beaten into submission, the womens’ ultimate crime was being born in the wrong time, at the wrong place, to the wrong people.

That’s right. Heartbreakingly, the girls at the convents’ have been shamed by their families and pretty much given off to a life of virtual slavery. When one girl, Una (Mary Murray,) makes a successful escape attempt from the convent, her dad (writer/director Mullan) drags her back, beating her hysterically all the while, and shrieks “You’ve got no home. You got no mother. You got no father. You killed us, you slut. you killed us both.” Remember in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when Billy Bibbit, played by Brad Dourif, kills himself because he is so shamed by the idea of his mama finding out he ain’t a virgin no more? This is that reality.

magdalene-sisters

I think this is why Kevin (Sean McDonagh,) Margaret’s first cousin and rapist, just stands impassively as Margaret tells her family what he did to her. This is the really disgusting thing. He knows he can get away with it. He knows that among many people in his society (1963 Catholic Ireland) that the men aren’t considered culpable for anything they do. While boys are casually told to keep it in their pants, women suffer the real brunt of it. And that’s not the most reprehensible thing on display in this movie.

 The Magdalene Sisters would seem totally out there if it weren’t reportedly based on a true story. How accurately based, I don’t know, and it’s easy to see why the Catholic church went nuts when this came out. What’s really interesting, though, is not the claimed attack on Christianity (which is a dime a dozen in movies and TV) but the performances (outstanding across the board) and the dynamics between the characters. Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan) is one of the most bone-chillingly evil villainesses in film history.

And there’s nothing worse than an evil person thoroughly convinced by their own moral superiority, who believes without a shadow of a doubt that they are going straight to heaven. Mostly Sister Bridget is someone you just want to punch, self-satisfied and heartless, who gets through her day with the loose-fitting mask of a urgently pedantic aunt or grandmother who knows what’s best for you, damn it. Occasionally (more often than occasionally) the mask slips and you see the complete hypocritical soullessness underneath.

Remove this as well and what do you get? Probably a woman who really hates herself. Because she is a woman and women, by definition, must be cleansed. She’s probably got a sad story beneath all the wickedness and bile (the movie at several instances, through the characters of Katy (Britta Smith) and Una, shows us that victimization is a cycle, only broken when someone has the strength to throw the towel in and choose not to hurt people,) but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

It reminds me of what someone (don’t remember who,) once said, “Any true villain is a hero in their own eyes.” I have no idea how Sister Bridget and the other nuns could think they’re living in the example of Christ, but hey, you can convince yourself of anything if you believe it hard enough, Don’t make it so, I’m afraid.

If this movie has an overreaching flaw, it is that it sometimes seems a bit heavy-handed in it’s themes. But the drama will keep you glued to your seat and, as agonizing it is, you must watch to the end, just to see if the protagonists escape their circumstances. Ultimately, the free-spirited Bernadette is the most complex character, and her final act of defiance (simple and seemingly insignificant as it was) will give you goose pimples.

   The Magdalene Sisters will make you wonder what it would be like to have these girls’ strength, their resilience. And it will make you thankful you never had to come against these circumstances. Give me my comfortable life and my cowardice over their personal hell anytime, thanks. But still it will force you to think what you’d be made of under these conditions. And glad you’ll probably never have to know.

The_Magdalene_Sisters_nun

Children of Men (2006)

600full-children-of-men-poster

In these visions of the future, do things ever go even slightly well? Okay, okay, I’ll grant you “Star Trek,” with it’s intergalactic exploits and shows of compassion and friendship between James T. Kirk and the impeccably logical Vulcan Spock. “Star Wars” maybe, But for the most part, for every good thing that happens in a science fiction film, a hundred shitty things happen almost simultaneously.

Take the government for example. The government in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” is shady at best, completely, reprehensibly corrupt at worst. They even offer suicide kits for disillusioned citizens with which to off themselves in a pinch. “Ah, but at least there IS a government,” you say? Well in this society, even total anarchy seems preferable to this Hell on earth. Never has a post-apocalyptic future looked so bleak.

In “Children of Men”‘s world, women have become infertile, causing mankind to lose faith in our survival. Politically apathetic citizen Theo (Clive Owen) is begrudgingly hired by his ex-girlfriend Julian (Julianne Moore) to smuggle the teenaged Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey,) the first pregnant woman in eighteen years, out of the ransacked Britain to a program that supposedly can help her.

Julian is a member of an underground group known as the Fish, which rebels against the government, often through acts of urban terrorism. She and Theo have a big-time history, having had and lost a child together. As Theo and Kee make a desperate bid for survival, everyone wants what Kee’s got for their own twisted agenda- including some of the Fish, who think ownership of the child will help their political cause.

“Children of Men” seems hyper realistic despite it’s mostly unreal premise, which nonetheless bears resemblance to many aspects of societal discord, including the Fish as kind of a post-apocalyptic IRA. The actors give excellent performances, including virtual unknown Ashity as Kee and Michael Caine as an amiable pothead who’s long since retreated to live apart from society’s electric eye.

I like the fact that Kee is promiscuous and not at all attempt to capture the sanctity of a Virgin Mary-type character. The girl’s got a mouth on her, and, you know, I kind of like that. However, she and Theo form a (strictly platonic) bond as they evade the corruption of futuristic Britain. There’s also a Holocaust-type vibe to the story as Illegal immigrants are caged and brutalized for the sake of the country’s ‘purity.’

I was initially not sure if I would like this movie, since it was not on my immediate radar, but “Children of Men” proved to be timeless science fiction, up to par with “Blade Runner” (I personally think “2001” is about as riveting as watching paint dry, to use a film-critique stereotype, so you won’t get my support on exulting that one.) I actually found myself tearing up at one point, which I only do occasionally, because “Children of Men” has what many apocalyptic fests lack- a heart. This is one of the few science fiction movies I would even readily describe as ‘beautiful.’

Violent but strangely sad and tender, “Children of Men”knocks it out of the ballpark and is most not just another stuff-goes-wrong-in-the-future motion picture. People with short attention spans might be disappointed, but those who approach the experience of watching a movie as akin to reading a book will instinctively know what I know- that patience, and thoughtfulness, holds its own rewards.

childrenofmen

Tyrannosaur (2011)

Emotionally devastating and rewarding, a study of desperate individuals with seemingly nothing to lose, “Tyrannosaur” is one to put on your watch list. Now. Featuring electrifying performances from Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, and the criminally underused Eddie Marsan, it is as riveting as it is disturbing and shocking.

Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a man seething with rage and contempt. When we first see him, he is leaving a bar after a fight. Irritated suddenly by the whining of his dog, tied up outside, he gives it a fatal kick in the ribs.

Joseph seems to have this effect on everyone who crosses his path, and he certainly seems incapable of any lasting change, but that doesn’t stop kind Christian charity shop worker Hannah (Olivia Coleman) from trying to help, to Joseph’s great puzzlement.


Hannah, despite her soft and motherly exterior, has a heapful of s**t going on at home. Heartbreakingly unable to have children, she is also saddled with the world’s biggest d**k as a husband – James (Eddie Marsan,) who abuses her in every way possible.

How these two lonely souls find each other is the subject of this discomforting drama, which to me is the most genuinely distressing film since Simon Rumley’s “The Living and the Dead.” “Tyrannosaur” thrives on that stark realism we’ve come to expect from the Brits, but goes deeper than most Brit flicks, let alone American films.

I was in one state of distress or another throughout the film. The violence can be upsetting, especially if you are an animal lover, but don’t let a couple of scenes prevent you from watching what is most certainly one of the best British films of the last ten years.

Writer/director Paddy Constantine (actor/co-writer of the also great “Dead Man’s Shoes”) touches his characters with a little something extra, refraining from turning them into dim-witted caricatures. You get something from this film that you don’t get very often- the feeling that you have watched a truly great movie. And how great is that? Recommended.