I watched a movie on Pay-Per-View yesterday that really touched me. I hadn’t heard much about it, except that Dame Judy Dench was nominated for an Oscar for her lead role. I knew a few people who had seen it and said it was very good, but no real hype over it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the synopsis intrigued me, so I watched it and liked it very much.
It is based on the true story of Philomena Lee as told by journalist Martin Sixsmith. Philomena is an elderly Irish lady who had a baby out of wedlock when she was a teenager. Given the times when this occurred and her Irish-Catholic upbringing, her family sent her away to a convent to have the baby. To repay the nuns for the care she and her baby received, they required the young women who were sent there to stay for a number of years to work. They worked long, hard days and were only allowed to see their children for one hour per day. The children resided in the orphanage and were adopted out without any notice to the young mothers. When Philomena’s son, Anthony, was taken away at about the age or 2 or 3, she was devastated. She never forgot the day she watched from an upstairs window as the car with his new parents drove away with Anthony in the rear window. She wasn’t given a chance to say good bye and only knew he was being taken because one of the other young girls saw the nuns take him from the orphanage. Over the years, she tried to find him many times, but the nuns told her they didn’t have any way of knowing where he was and reminded her of a contract she signed under duress that stipulated she was never to try to contact her child. She went through her life thinking she was being punished for her sins, but never forgot her little boy.
In comes Martin Sixsmith – a down on his luck journalist who was recently fired from his job. Philomena’s daughter connected with him at a party and asked him to write about her mother’s story. Although he was initially reluctant to lower his standards and do a “human interest” piece, he did agree to meet with her and do her story. After receiving no help from the nuns…..they said all the records were lost years prior in a fire, but he discovered the “fire” was a deliberate bon fire meant to destroy all the records from the old convent/orphanage…….he decided to help Philomena find her long lost son. They develop a bond and travel to America in search of Anthony. Their emotional journey resulted in Sixsmith’s book, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”.
Dame Judy Dench portrays Philomena brilliantly. It is easy to see into Philomena’s soul through Judy Dench’s performance – her torment, her joys, her faith, and her child-like, yet very wise, character. Steve Coogan wrote the screenplay that was adapted from the book and starred as Martin Sixsmith. Coogan shows how Sixsmith was compelled to help Philomena, even through his frustrations with her faith and naïve look at life. The two actors played well off each other and had a relaxed comfort with each other that demonstrated the bond, friendship, and mutual respect that Martin and Philomena shared in real life. They make you fall in love with them and believe them.
This is an emotional film. It is heart wrenching to watch Philomena lose her child as a young girl and then watch her journey as she searches for him. It is also an inspiring story of relentless dedication and profound love. I’m very glad I decided to watch it. I rate this movie a solid A- (only because it was a bit slow, otherwise I’d rate it an A+).