Having recently found himself out of work, Martin Sixsmith is on a search for his next professional move. At a party, he offends a woman while talking about his disgust of human interest stories, but wakes up the next day and reconsiders. Meeting with Philomena Lee and her daughter, he learns that she had gotten pregnant out of wedlock and was punished by the nuns at her Catholic convent. While imprisoned at the convent, her son was sold to a wealthy couple. Feeling ready to finally reveal her hidden past, she had broken the silence to her daughter. With the potential for a grand reunion between Philomena and her son, Martin accompanies Philomena on a journey to the convent and to America to find her long-lost son. Their investigation reveals some serious secrets kept by the nuns of the convent and a surprising turn of events regarding the history of her son.
Starring: Judi Dench (Philomena Lee), Steve Coogan (Martin Sixsmith), Sophie Kennedy Clark (Young Philomena), Mare Winningham (Mary), Barbara Jefford (Sister Hildegarde), Ruth McCabe (Mother Barbara), Peter Hermann (Pete Olsson), Sean Mahon (Michael), Anna Maxwell Martin (Jane), Michelle Fairley (Sally Mitchell)
Judi Dench was truly a pleasure in this film. Her overall cheerful and positive attitude provided a levity to a story that could be incredibly heartbreaking. When the emotions did turn up, she truly made the viewer feel the pain, guilt, and disappointment she felt in those scenes. Coogan provided a good counter to Dench’s positivity, bringing the contrast in religious beliefs and a representation of inner growth through someone else’s story. The cast helped to fill in the gaps of the rest of the story, but the focus was truly on the leading pair.
Stephen Frears adapted the real story by Martin Sixsmith into a moving film that depicted Philomena’s seemingly impossible search for her son. As a young woman, her pregnancy brought forth some real challenges. Abandoned by her parents and forced to live in the convent, she was held captive and limited in her ability to spend time with her son. When he was completely taken away from her, she locked away that aspect of her life for fifty years. Martin ended up being the catalyst to send her on the search. After turning up with no leads from their trip to the convent, their night at the local tavern turned up new information about the selling of children to American couples. Agreeing to travel to Washington DC, Martin learned the fate of Anthony but continued the search with Philomena to bring some closure to her story.
The film was about the search but it was also about the conflict with belief and faith. Martin had grown up Roman Catholic but was not longer a practicing Christian. He actually seemed to get self-conscious about attending a service with his wife. In contrast and even with her challenging set of experiences, Philomena remained a very devout Catholic. She did not change, even after suffering through childbirth, imprisonment, and losing her son. As she was in the middle of the search, she found her faith challenged several times. The death of her son was a very detrimental moment, as it nearly derailed her efforts permanently. While intriguing, it was just a shocking to learn that he tried to find her in Ireland. In the end, She maintained her faith and remained conflicted about which sin was the bigger one: having a child out of wedlock or lying about her past for so many years.
The story was actually a phenomenal one, which was told well through the performances by Dench and Coogan. While the flashbacks were not as strong as the main story, the complete film was truly captivating.
Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5