Philomena movie review
Philomena (12A) 98 mins ****
Another sorry chapter in the recent history of the Catholic Church is laid bare in Philomena, a dramatisation of BBC political correspondent Martin Sixsmith’s investigative book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee.
Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan) had just been sacked as a government spin doctor, amidst a blur of scandalous headlines, when he encountered Philomena’s daughter at an upmarket cocktail party - he attending as a guest, she as a waitress.
Overhearing Sixsmith’s journalistic background she asks for his help in tracing her mother’s lost son who was taken from her by the Church as a toddler.
At first Sixsmith is dismissive - he doesn’t do human interest stories, but he reconsiders and when he meets Philomena (Judi Dench) she relates the devastating story of how she became pregnant at 15 and, abandoned by her family, she was sent to a convent for unmarried mothers.
There she was forced to give birth without pain relief and work seven days a week in a laundry, she and the other mothers allowed to see their children for just an hour a day.
As part of their ‘punishment’ they were persuaded to sign away all rights to their children and so it happens that Philomena’s son is adopted by a wealthy American couple - sold by the Church for £1,000 with not even an opportunity for Philomena to say goodbye.
Sixsmith embarks on a journey across Ireland and the USA with Philomena alongside him, to root out the truth of what has happened to her stolen son.
It makes for an extremely unlikely road trip - Sixsmith and Philomena separated by class, education and temperament - but there is much humour to be enjoyed through their enforced pairing.
Director Michael Frears doesn’t allow an ounce of sentimentality to creep into his telling of Philomena’s story and the result is a funny and touching film that has much to say on matters of faith and forgiveness.
Judi Dench is unfussy and amusing as the immensely likeable Philomena whose love of trash romantic fiction couldn’t be more at odds with Sixsmith’s intention to write a book on Russian history.
Added to this, the story of what happened to Philomena’s son is fascinating.
by RUTH DOWDS