Starring: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Michelle Fairley, Peter Hermann, Ruth McCabe
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Synopsis: A world weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.
I don’t know if its because I have young children, particuarly a son who is probably the same age as Philomena Lee’s child was when he was adopted against her wishes, but this film made me so angry. Not the film itself, which was really quite good, but the subject matter. Despite the film’s light hearted approach, the subject is actually as dark and despicable as anything you will see in 12 Years a Slave.
Basically, Catholic girls who copped off with boys and accidentally got pregnant were shipped off to a convent and treated like slaves by the nasty nuns. They were forced to labour at the convent for four years and were only allowed to see their children for one hour per day. That is, until a wealty family decided they wanted to pay the convent to take said child off their hands. The mother had no say in this, and would not see their child again. That is appalling isn’t it. Good old religion eh.
Philomena’s (Dench) story is remarkable in many ways, not least the fact that some how fate guided her to the answers she desired. She managed to get her story to Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) who went to the US with her. She managed to find out her son’s identity and all about his (pretty impressive achievements). I won’t say anymore so as not to ruin anything.
The film offsets the terrible subject matter by being very good natured for the most part, particularly the chemistry between Coogan and Dench. Coogan is the atheist who can’t understand how Dench can still be a devout catholic despite the horrendous crimes perpetrated by the church. Dench can’t fathom why Coogan is so cynical. I have to say I’m on Coogan’s side on this one!
Judi Dench is pretty much incapable of giving a bad performance, even hidden behind a strong Irish accent. You can sense her pain all the time, but she also gives you cause to laugh at her ‘little old lady lost’ routine. Steve Coogan isn’t in the same league as Dench, and he just seems to be playing a variation of himself to a degree, but he was fantastic none the less. Personally, I’m not religious either, so I could feel his frustration in this film.
Philomena holds much pleasure, whilst at the same time will make your blood boil, especially as there isn’t so much as an apology from the convent at the end of this unbelievable story.