A series to discover the horror of the Catholic 'Magdalene laundries'

Lorna (Ruth Wilson) has a reputation for being weird in the Irish town where she lives.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 February 2024 Sunday 22:30
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A series to discover the horror of the Catholic 'Magdalene laundries'

Lorna (Ruth Wilson) has a reputation for being weird in the Irish town where she lives. She is perceived as a withdrawn woman who can occasionally be found walking around the street in her pajamas due to her sleepwalking. She is traumatized, as some local women know, by her time in a Catholic institution during adolescence. But, when she wakes up with a dead body at home and no memory of what happened, she sets out to investigate who that woman is and why she might have killed her, even if it means opening up the wounds of the past.

On paper, The Woman on the Wall is a classic mystery series: a psychological thriller about the search for the truth by a particular woman whom, thanks to the glimpses offered by the flashbacks, the viewer can support. In parallel, detective Colman Akande (Daryl McCormack), arrived from Dublin, investigates the murder of a Catholic priest found near where Lorna lives, in Kilkinure. You will find a hermetic community, where the whispers of the neighbors do not prevent there from being secrets that are difficult for you to access, and that will force you to consider to what extent your victim was an innocent person.

However, the interest of the miniseries, broadcast on SkyShowtime and participated by the BBC, lies in the criminal network that screenwriter Joe Murtagh takes as a reference to set the murders: the so-called "Magdalene laundries", in one of which Lorna was there during her youth.

These laundries were psychiatric institutions in which women in a bad time could stay temporarily to rebuild their lives. The first had been founded in the 18th century and these centers were operational until the 1990s. The reality, however, was that women entered a regime of physical and psychological abuse from which they were not free to leave, at least in some of these centers.

Let's imagine, for example, a rebellious young woman. She could end up in one of these laundries at the request of her parents, who believed that she would pursue useful studies there. The nuns reported the notes. But, instead of studying, the nuns forced her to work in a laundry with contracts with public institutions while they sent false reports to her parents. If she did not serve as an obedient woman, she could be tortured.

This also happened to the women who strayed from the path of the Lord that the authorities themselves sent to the laundries. And, in the case of pregnant women and single mothers, baby theft was a common practice. Laundry customers paid for a service and they, who could spend more than a year without being able to leave the centers, did not receive a single penny for 16-hour work days.

As a mystery series, The Woman on the Wall shows its seams: the information is dosed and it plays with how unreliable Lorna's brain is in a sometimes frustrating way. It is one of those thrillers where a character with key information tells the protagonist that “tomorrow she will tell everything” and, of course, that person dies before being able to reveal the important information.

Lorna is stimulating enough to stay, even to learn the story she would rather have buried and that prevents her from sleeping normally at night. As she said before, one wants to see her free of sin and post-traumatic consequences. And, with a context as crude as the one explored, watching it almost becomes a duty: an excuse so that the viewer can later find out about a criminal network blessed by Catholic priests and nuns.