July 17th, 2024

Ruth Wilson stirs up trauma of Magdalene laundries in ‘The Woman in the Wall’

By Alicia Rancilio, The Associated Press on January 19, 2024.

Ruth Wilson attends the premiere of "The Woman in the Wall" at Metrograph on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024, in New York. (Photo by CJ Rivera/Invision/AP)

In her latest role in Showtime’s “The Woman in the Wall,” Ruth Wilson plays Lorna, a woman prone to sleepwalking and night terrors.

Waking up to the repercussions of her “night behavior” can be a nightmare in itself: In the first episode, Lorna awakens to discover a dead body in her home and no idea why.

Lorna’s sleep issues are a manifestation of trauma she experienced as a pregnant teen forced to live in a church-run facility – sometimes called Catholic laundries or Magdalene laundries for unmarried and pregnant women and girls and others deemed to be trouble. In Lorna’s case, she was forced to work throughout her pregnancy and her baby was taken immediately after birth.

Lorna’s life intersects with a detective named Colman (played by Daryl McCormack ) who is investigating the murder of a local priest. Initially leery of one another, Lorna and Colman find they each have a history with these institutions.

“The Woman in the Wall” premieres Saturday on Paramount+ before its broadcast debut on Showtime on Jan. 21.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Wilson spoke about learning of these Magdalene laundries, her complex thoughts on religion and how Sinéad O’Connor left her mark on the project. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.


AP: How familiar were you with the Magdalene laundries prior to taking this role?

WILSON: There’s been a few dramas like “Philomena” with Judi Dench. And then there was “The Magdalene Sisters”, which was made a number of years ago by Peter Mullan. There hasn’t been a great deal of information about it or dramatization stories. The last laundry closed in 1996 so, actually, it’s incredibly recent history. I think culturally, Ireland is still in the process of reconciling and acknowledging that this happened. When the pilot script came through, I thought, “This is a really important story that needs to get out there. We need to keep making dramas or stories about this subject matter.”

AP: Your mother has been quoted as saying you’ve always had to have something to fight for and I’m wondering if this project is an example of that.

WILSON: I’ve always had a sort of thing about injustice. Even as a little kid if something felt wrong to me or unjust, I would stand up and say something about it or get angry. I think that in my work I have a responsibility. I’m lucky enough to have a platform to put work out there which might educate people or change people’s minds about things or challenge people, as well as move them or entertain them. I think if I’ve got that responsibility, I should take it seriously and use it as I can.

AP: Before her death, Sinéad O’Connor granted permission for one of her songs, called “The Magdalene Song,” to be used in the final episode of the series. She also was sent to a Magdalene laundry as a teen.

WILSON: She was sent to a laundry or an equivalent of a laundry. She was a bit of a naughty kid. Girls were put into these places for tiny little misdemeanors or for just being sort of outspoken or louder than they should be as girls. She spoke about it a lot. David Holmes, the composer of all the music on the show, had been working with Sinéad producing her last album. He knew about (the song) and asked Sinéad and she gave her blessing for us to put it on the end of the show. When he played it to me, I got goosebumps.

AP: Did this series make you look at religion differently since these laundries were Catholic institutions?

WILSON: I’m a Catholic. I grew up a Catholic. I don’t practice anymore, but I’m fascinated by it and the impact on me. I find going to church quite hard these days. I still go with my dad. My dad goes every week and I understand why he likes it; I understand the ritual and the community. There’s a lot to be said for having a community like that. Any religion or any sort of institution can be corrupted. It’s run by people and people aren’t always clear-minded. As long as things are run by humans, they’ve always got the potential to be corrupted. I find it fascinating, and I find the denial or the refusal to see clearly by communities and by people quite interesting.

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