Film: Philomena (2013)
Cast includes: Judi Dench (Skyfall), Steve Coogan (The Trip), Anna Maxwell Martin (Becoming Jane), Sophie Kennedy Clark (Dark Shadows)
Director: Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity)
Writers: Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge series), Jeff Pope (Dirty Filthy Love)
Genre: Drama | Humor | Biography (98 minutes)
His health stats look good… maybe it’s mild depression. “Well, I got sacked and I didn’t deserve it,” Martin Sixsmith points out. His doctor suggests he find a diversion. Martin wants to write a book on Russian history. His doctor suggests running, instead. Any way you look at it, if Martin’s going to get back into journalism, he’s going to have to “eat a huge portion of humble pie with a side order of grovel sauce.” And honestly, “no one’s worried about Russian bloody history.” Meanwhile, Philomena lights a candle and says a prayer… she can remember it as if it were yesterday… the handsome lad at the fair… he made her feel so special… she didn’t know she was pregnant until it was almost time. The birth was terribly painful, and the nuns said it was penance. Today, on her child’s 50th birthday, Philomena studies the one photo she has and decides to tell her daughter, Jane… after keeping it a secret all these years.
At a party, where Jane’s working, she overhears a conversation. Martin is introduced as “used to be the BBC’s man in Moscow… and Washington… trying to get back into journalism.” Jane approaches him about doing a story… a woman who had her child forcibly taken away by the nuns back in the 50s. “I don’t do human interest stories,” he says. But eventually he realizes beggars can’t be choosers and agrees to meet Philomena. It’s a shocking and heartbreaking story… the exhausting work in the abbey's laundry so she can see Anthony for just one hour a day… the rumors about people coming to take Kathleen’s daughter… the big car… the shock of seeing Anthony’s face in the rear window as the car drives away. Philomena tried to trace him, but there was a fire, the nuns tell her. She’s thought about her son every single day and wants to know what’s become of him. “I don’t want to cause any fuss or point the finger.” Anyway, Philomena’s going back to the abbey again to talk to the nuns and Martin… who is willing to cause a fuss… decides to join her.
In 2009, an article by the Martin Sixsmith came to the attention of actor/writer Steve Coogan, who wanted to make a good movie about it. But his interest went beyond Philomena and the stolen child. The movie is about the relationship that develops between Philomena and Martin. Despite the deep sadness, Philomena isn’t bitter. She’s enthusiastically sincere… to the point of naivety. Martin is cynical… to the point of rudeness. But that doesn’t stop Philomena from seeing the good in everyone and everything. As the story takes some unexpected turns, the two develop a bond. Once Judi Dench signed on, much of the script was written to take advantage of her exceptional abilities. She’s always excellent, but this is truly a standout role. The “sisters of little mercy” certainly could have made the search easier had they wanted to, but Philomena never loses her faith or her joy. “Well, I never saw that coming, Martin… not in a million years.” Nor do we.
4 popped kernels
Philomena Lee wants to find out what happened to her child, who was forcibly taken from her 50 years ago by the nuns at Roscrea Abbey
Distribution: Mainstream limited release
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Primary Driver: Character development
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking