The newly released movie Philomena, from British filmmaker Stephen Frears, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, is inspired by a tragic book written by Martin Sixsmith. It is the true story of a woman searching for her lost son, a lifelong quest that will take her from the UK to America, a desperate quest and heart-wrenching saga.
Taking place in Ireland, which explains some of the conservative positions of the highly Catholic society in which she lives, Philomena, the woman in the film, found herself pregnant out of wedlock (such a word) shipped away to a convent of sort, and forced by nuns to give up her baby boy to a rich family.
The only choice available to her in those days, and in that society, was to live in hiding in one of the many “asylums” suited for scandalous behaviors and unspeakable actions, mostly errors of the flesh. It is highly probable that none of the residents were actually insane. Guarded by nuns, the women were subject to forced unpaid labor for the benefit of the Catholic Church.
These medieval and cruel institutions were known in Ireland as the Magdalene Laundries, maybe referring to the work the jailed victims were doing, and so named after Mary Magdalene, who was wrongly thought to be a prostitute. Several such places existed in Australia, England, Ireland and even in North America.
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