We watched this from Redbox on April 21
Both me and Lay thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It was certainly very sad, and I must admit, it made me angry, but it was a good story well told. You definitely need to watch this movie.
Judi Dench plays Philomena, and although we are used to seeing her in more commanding regal roles or as James Bonds no-nonsense boss ‘M’, don’t be fooled, this is her most complex role to date and her performance is nothing short of sensational and worthy of an Academy award.
The film begins with a series of flashbacks, interlaced with close ups of Dench’s aging facial features. Each wrinkle adjusts slowly each time Philomena relives an emotion, It’s through these scenes that we get a glimpse of Philomena’s pain and it is as strong now as it was all those years ago.
In the flashbacks, Sophie Kennedy-Clark plays the heavily pregnant young Philomena who is abandoned by her family at Sean Ross Abbey. The nuns are obstructive and damn right mean “you are the cause of your shame. You and your own indecency” lectures mother superior, before reluctantly admitting Philomena into their care. Furthermore they refuse any pain relief when Philomena goes into a labour “The pain is her penance, It will help absolve her of her sin”.
Worse yet – the convent sells the children to wealthy Americans looking to adopt, and after four years of being forced to work in the convent laundry Philomena is helpless as she watches her Anthony being removed from the convent by an American couple.
After 50 years of keeping quiet about Anthony, the anniversary of his birth causes Philomena to speak up and share her story. “I’d like to know what he thought of me”, explains Philomena to reporter Martin Sixsmith “I’ve thought about him every day.” Martin Sixsmith is played Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the screenplay), He is a well educated former political journalist. Who initially believes human-interest stories are for “vulnerable, weak-minded, ignorant people”. Nevertheless Sixsmith at his own crossroads can’t ignore the potential in this story and invests in the operation of tracking down Philomena’s boy.
Coogan and Dench’s on-screen chemistry is undeniably charming, Coogan is a well known British funny-man, last seen in one of this years best comedies ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’ but in this role he takes a comedic backseat to Dench who provides most of the best chuckles and Coogan gives the film the thoughtful and serious balance that is needed.
The ‘road trip’ Philomena and Martin take is full of amusing exchanges with Philomena having a healthy frankness when it comes to discussing sexuality and her constant marveling at the first class lifestyle she’s experiencing. It is Martin who has to keep Philomena motivated with the task at hand when she gets side-tracked by the possibility of renting something called “Big Momma’s House” from the comfort of their hotel room.
As with most journeys, you need to come a full circle to get the perspective you’re looking for and Martin (And the film itself) does just that. After traveling to the United States we return back to Ireland to the Sean Ross Abbey and it is here where we find our answers.
Director Stephen Frears (The Queen) manages to make this sedate tale of a woman searching for her son thought provoking and sensitive but it also takes a cynical glance towards the institutions of journalism, politics and religion. We are reminded once again before the end credits that it is a true story and a remarkable one at that. As Philomena would say this film is “One in a million”.