Geraldine McEwan

The Magdalene Sisters

Interviewed by Tom Dawson

Veteran British actresss Geraldine McEwan is best known for her performances in TV series The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. She appears as the malicious Sister Bridget in Peter Mullan's award-winning film "The Magdalene Sisters".

What was your reaction when you read the screenplay to "The Magdalene Sisters"?

It was a really good script. I told my agent the day I read it that I definitely wanted to do it. I think I was stunned by my character Sister Bridget, and appalled by the horrifying way she treated the young women at the convent. It's like with the concentration camps, I can never believe that women, who generally speaking are thought to be maternal and caring, could treat other human beings like that.

How did you approach playing such a cruel, sadistic character?

I didn't want to make her a two-dimensional baddie, that would just be too melodramatic.  I was very concerned to make her believable. Although she behaves horrifically and one can hate what she does, in playing the role I identified with her and in myself I understood her. She's constrained, and frustrated and unfulfilled intellectually and sexually, and she's in this position of power, where she is never challenged and which she abuses. It did feel quite weird however wearing a nun's robes - I felt I was encroaching on territory which I had no right to encroach upon, that I was insulting the Church.

One of the most surprising moments is when Sister Bridget shed tears after watching a screening of "The Bells of St Mary's"...

I think Sister Bridget responds to that film because she identifies with the Ingrid Bergman character[Sister Benedict]. She sees herself as beautiful and pure and doing good works, and she responds in a surprisingly sentimental fashion. She is an emotional person. She behaves in an excessive manner when handing out punishments, and that can only come about from somebody with a lot of emotion and passion in them. When she's whipping the girls, she loses awareness of how humiliating and painful these beatings are to the young women, and she doesn't know when to stop.