The Woman in the Wall: Is the Showtime Show Inspired by a True Story?

Image Credit: Colin Barr/ BBC

With Joe Murtagh at the helm of creation, ‘The Woman in the Wall’ is a mystery thriller drama series that follows Lorna Brady who discovers the dead body of a mysterious woman in her house. Given her history of trauma-based sleepwalking that dates back to her teenage days when she was in the Kilkinure Convent Magdalene Laundry, she is unsure if she had anything to do with the corpse inside her residence. During her time in the Laundry, she became pregnant and gave birth but had her baby daughter taken away right after she was born.

Investigating the case is Detective Colman Akande, who has secrets of his own but gets pulled into the case and Lorna’s life as he helps her find out what exactly happened to her daughter. Led by the captivating performances of Ruth Wilson and Daryl McCormack, the suspenseful British show taps into the intricacies of a cruel institution and the effects it has on the protagonist. The portrayal of the Laundry is so detailed and well-thought-out that the viewers are bound to wonder if the tale is rooted in reality or not.

The Woman in the Wall is Based on Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries

Yes, ‘The Woman in the Wall’ is somewhat based on true events. Although the specific story of Lorna Brady is fictional, the parts about Ireland’s controversial Magdalene Laundries happen to be accurate and real. The creator, Joe Murtagh, took inspiration from the real-life stories of the survivors who spent a significant amount of time imprisoned in such institutions and weaved a gripping and informational tale surrounding reality.

Image Credit: Chris Barr/BBC

For the uninitiated, the Magdalene Laundries AKA Magdalene asylums were usually run by Roman Catholic orders between the 18th and the late 20th century. Behind the facade of being an institution for “fallen women,” it confined nearly 30,000 such women who were demanded to perform physical labor without getting any pay for it. Many former inmates and survivors of the institution have come out and reported being physically abused by the ones in charge, as portrayed through the character of Lorna Brady in ‘The Woman in the Wall.’

Some women even spent their entire lives under the oppression of the strict rules of the institutions, getting punished by nuns for even the slightest of indiscretions. The Magdalene Laundries was at the center of controversy in the 1990s as a mass grave with about 155 bodies was discovered at one such institution in Dublin, Ireland. They have been the focus of several other productions, such as ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ (2002) and ‘Philomena‘ (2013).

However, ‘The Woman in the Wall’ explores the painful history of the laundries using the medium of gothic thriller, which turns out to be quite effective yet different from other cultural representations of the institution out there. The creator, Joe Murtagh, revealed his source of inspiration for making this powerful show while talking to Televisual. Murtagh stated, “As for the inspiration behind the series, primarily it was coming across the real-life stories of the Magdalene Laundries. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was Peter Mullins’ film The Magdalene Sisters that first introduced me to it.”

The creator continued, “I couldn’t believe that it had happened, but I also couldn’t believe that I didn’t know that all this had happened.” He further elaborated that despite the gravity of the subject, not many people outside of Ireland knew about these laundries. Murtagh said, “And so, primarily, I was inspired to do this just by a sense of outrage, I guess you’d call it. And I wanted to do it in a very particular kind of way where, because it was so unknown, I wanted to kind of cast the net wide, and get the story out there to as wide an audience as possible.”

Talking about the overall tone of the series, he “was looking at Hitchcock and Coen Brothers, filmmakers like Martin McDonagh, who blend genre really well or do one particular type of genre really well. They were the inspirations for the storytelling, tone, and genre.” In an interview with The New York Times, Ruth Wilson, who portrays Lorna Brady, was asked if she found anything surprising about the true events that the show is based on. She said that she was shocked to find out that the laundries existed until the 1990s, as she was under the belief that it was a thing of an era close to the 1950s.

Ruth Wilson explained, “It really brought home that this is incredibly recent history, and for that reason, it’s hard to talk about because people still are having to process it and reconcile it. Those women that survived it are still out there and are still desperate for their stories to be told and for people to acknowledge that it happened.” Thus, given the significant history tied to the predominant theme of the real-life Magdalene Laundries, it can be said that although the specific story of ‘The Woman in the Wall’ is fictional, the portrayal of the institutions is inspired by true events.

Read More: The Woman in the Wall: Where is the Show Filmed?