Sometimes the most terrifying horror stories are human ones. Such is the case with the upcoming Showtime drama The Woman in the Wall, a tense and emotional thriller that aims to explore the legacy of one of Ireland's most shocking and inhumane scandals — the institutions known as the Magdalene Laundries, where women were often put to work as punishment for having sex outside of marriage.
The series stars Ruth Wilson (His Dark Materials) as Lorna Brady, a woman who wakes up to discover a dead body in her house with no memory of how it got there or if she might be responsible for what appears to be a brutal murder. This is because Lorna regularly suffers from extreme bouts of sleepwalking, incidents which began during her teenage imprisonment at the fictional Kilkinure Convent, where her daughter was cruelly taken away from her.
Peaky Blinders' Daryl McCormack plays Detective Colman Akande, who's investigating a seemingly unrelated crime. But when he meets Lorna, he'll be forced to confront his own haunting secrets. As Akande investigates a murder and Lorna searches for the truth about the daugher whose fate she has never known, their paths will become intertwined in unexpected ways.
The first trailer for the series leans hard into the teaser concept, featuring no dialogue and little context for anything we're seeing. Instead, a series of striking visuals whiz by underneath Wilson's especially ominous-sounding reading of the opening lines of Clare Harner's 1934 poem "Immortality". (Translation: You have my attention now, show.)
Created by Joe Murtagh (Gangs of London), the six-part series digs into the dark and traumatic legacy of the Magdalene Laundries. These religious institutions — the bulk of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church — essentially incarcerated “fallen women” in Ireland between the 18th and 20 centuries. While most of these women were pregnant with illegitimate children, there were also those accused of adultery, promiscuity, prostitution, same-sex attraction, or any other (usually sexual) sin the woman was deemed to need punishment for.
In 1993, the unmarked graves of 155 women were discovered near the site of a former Magdalene Laundry in northern Dublin, at least one of which is reported to have died as recently as 1987. The investigation that followed resulted in a formal state apology and the establishment of a compensation scheme for survivors. However, these inhuman institutions still cast a long shadow over Ireland’s history.
“My family is from Mayo, the county in which the fictional Kilkinure is set, and it deeply frustrates and saddens me that it feels so few people have heard of the Laundries that existed across Ireland,” Murtagh said in a statement. “I hope that by making something that has the familiarity of a genre piece, we are able to shed some light on the awful things that occurred within these kinds of institutions and introduce this history to the wider public so that nothing like it may ever happen again.”
All six episodes were written by Murtagh, with helming duties split between directors Harry Wootliff (His Dark Materials) and Rachna Suri (Children of Men). Murtagh, Wilson, and Wootliff executive produce, along with Simon Maxwell (Deep State), Sam Lavender (Saint Maud), with Lucy Richer for the BBC.
The Woman in the Wall doesn’t have an official premiere date set yet but will premiere at some point this autumn on BBC One and Player before moving to Showtime and streaming on Paramount+.