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Heat on church to come clean

Dublin, Nov. 10 (Reuters): The director of a hard-hitting film on the virtual enslavement of women in laundries run by Roman Catholic orders in Ireland has said the church owed the women an apology.

Some 30,000 Irish women worked in the Magdalene Laundries, established in Ireland in 1848 for the detention of prostitutes and wayward women undergoing reform. Some of the women spent virtually their entire adult lives in the institutions, the last of which was closed in Dublin in 1996.

“It would be ideal for me if the women who went through this are given the kind of apology they’re looking for,” Peter Mullan, the Scottish director of The Magdalene Sisters, said in a telephone interview on the day of the film’s British debut at the London Film Festival.

The low-budget film, denounced by the Vatican as “an angry and rancorous provocation”, walked off with the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in September.

It has been playing to packed houses in Italy for a month and in Ireland for two weeks, claiming the number three spot in Ireland last week against such contenders as Red Dragon and Changing Lanes.

“What’s incredible is we’re getting reports that the audience (in Ireland) is of all age groups and that a large number of the clergy are going to see it,” said the 43-year-old Glasgow native, who was raised a Catholic.

“That is incredible, given the kind of rhetoric that was coming out of the Vatican.”

Mullan, best known to audiences for his award-winning performance as a recovering alcoholic in Ken Loach’s My Name is Joe, said it has yet to be seen how the film will fare in a secular nation like Britain, where it is due for release in February.

But he said that in Ireland, it appeared to have struck a chord with an overwhelmingly Catholic nation coming to grips with its past.

“I think a lot of it is because Ireland changed so much in the past 10 to 15 years, so maybe the time is right to stand back and take stock of what the country was formerly like,” Mullan said.

He also said the film was benefiting from word of mouth.

“Obviously people who are seeing it say they believe it to be a good drama and are telling their friends to go see it,” he said.

Framed as a pseudo-documentary, the film tells the stories of three young women sent to work at one of the laundries after they have fallen afoul of the strict social mores of Ireland in the 1960s.

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