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Peter Mullan—who memorably played the title role in Ken Loach's My Name Is Joe and subsequently wrote and directed Orphans (2000)—follows up those features with this equally harrowing 2002 account of young women found guilty of real or imagined sexual indiscretions and incarcerated in Irish labor camps run by the Sisters of the Magdalene Order. (A reported 30,000 women suffered this fate before these convent laundries finally closed in 1996.) Set in the mid-60s, it concentrates on four inmates (Anne-Marie Duff, Eileen Walsh, Nona-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy) and often calls to mind women-in-prison films; its brutal take on living under totalitarian rule periodically suggests Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Mullan makes the authority figures (such as the nun played by Geraldine McEwan) grimly believable, but as in Orphans, there are times when he doesn't know when to quit. 119 min.

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