Culture Street

Film

Film review: Philomena

On December 27, 2013

By Sophia Whitfield

Based on the true story of Philomena Lee, Philomena is the retelling of a deeply tragic story of loss.  Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope wrote the screenplay, adapted from the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee (2009) by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith.

Director Stephen Frears received success with his earlier films including Dangerous Liaisons and High Fidelity, but more recently has turned his hand to factual dramatisations such as The Queen. Philomena, his latest film starring Steve Coogan as journalist Martin Sixsmith and Judi Dench as Irishwoman Philomena, is an absolute gem.

In County Tipperary in Ireland, Philomena falls pregnant at the young age of 18 after her first dalliance with a man. She is promptly shipped off to a convent to have her child away from prying eyes. After the birth of her son Anthony, she is put to work in the laundry of the convent. She is allowed to spend one hour a day with her son until he turns three when Anthony is sold by the convent to an American couple. Philomena watches from a window as her son is taken away in a car to begin his new life without her.

Philomena goes on to marry and have two other children. Years later Philomena's daughter Jane finds her mother sitting at home looking at a photo of a young Anthony. When she asks her mother who he is Philomena finally tells her daughter the story of her son Anthony. It is his 50th birthday.

Jane meets Martin Sixsmith, a political journalist and former spin-doctor for the Blair government. He is disillusioned and finding it difficult to get work, but is not keen on doing a human-interest story. Jane pursues him and eventually convinces him to meet her mother.

Martin Sixsmith, along with Philomena, follow Anthony’s trail to Washington. As they travel together a beautiful relationship unfolds between the two, beginning with a forced relationship, but moving on to an endearing friendship based by understanding and compassion.

Despite the terribleness of her loss, throughout her life Philomena still observes her catholic faith, praying every night, even forgiving the nuns for their errors in judgment. By contrast Martin’s reaction to Philomena’s plight is anger.

The beauty of this film is that this terrible story is punctuated by humour largely due to Judi Dench’s portrayal of Philomena. It is a moving film depicted with deft excellence. My top film of 2013.

Philomena is now showing in cinemas across Australia.

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