The director of a hard-hitting film on the virtual enslavement of women in laundries run by Roman Catholic orders says the church owed the women an apology.

Some 30,000 Irish women worked in the Magdalene Laundries, established in 1848 for the detention of prostitutes and wayward women undergoing reform. Some of the women spent virtually their entire adult lives in the institutions, the last of which was closed in Dublin in 1996.

"It would be ideal for me if the women who went through this are given the kind of apology they're looking for," said Peter Mullan, the Scottish director of "The Magdalene Sisters".

The low-budget film, denounced by the Vatican as 'an angry and rancorous provocation', walked off with the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice film festival in September.

'We're getting reports that the audience is of all age groups and that a large number of the clergy are going to see it,' said the 43-year-old Glasgow native, who was raised a Catholic.

'That is incredible, given the kind of rhetoric that was coming out of the Vatican.'