Fifty-plus years ago Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench) became pregnant while unmarried. She was sent to a convent for girls in that condition. In return for help with childbirth (with no pain relieve), she was required to work at the convent for four years. The young women could see their babies for one hour a day and risked adoption by outside families at any time.
Philomena’s son was one of those children who was adopted when he was about three years old. Philomena never saw him again nor did she know where he went or who adopted him. It broke her heart, but she kept it a secret. After leaving the convent Philomena went on to become a nurse, a wife and the mother of a daughter.
On the fiftieth anniversary of her son’s birth, Philomena made a decision: she would break her vow of silence and tell her daughter everything. Her daughter was very sympathetic and encouraged Philomena to find out what happened to her son.
One day the daughter was working as a bartender at an exclusive party and overheard that one of the partygoers was a journalist and a former anchor for BBC News. The daughter got his name, Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan), and later contacted him. Very reluctantly he agreed to meet with the daughter and Philomena.
Although Martin Sixsmith was still reluctant, he agreed to do a little digging. He found just enough information and roadblocks to give rise to his journalistic suspicions. Philomena herself also intrigued Martin. Together they visited the convent, interviewed a couple of people, and, amazingly, find out the son was adopted by an American couple.
Philomena and Martin fly to Washington D.C. where they attempt to search adoption papers and find a name. Their success and where it leads them is the rest of the story. There are ups and downs as they gather more and more clues. There were times of stress and disappointment, but there were many moments of happiness and humor.
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan carried the movie. Actually, they were the movie. I thought they were both superb and strong. I’m already a Judi Dench fan. She was the reason I went to see the film. I didn’t know Steve Coogan’s work as well as I knew Dench’s, but I liked him within a few minutes of meeting him. He’s witty and has a great sense of comedic timing.
Although the subject of the film made me sad and angry, it also had some light moments. There was one scene in the movie that book lovers will enjoy and may possibly laugh out loud. I won’t give you the punch line and spoil it for you, but let me just say that the scene involves Philomena trying to convince Martin to read a historical romance novel. He, the serious journalist, tried to decline. The punch line and its timing were perfect. (The second photo above is the setting for this scene.)
As I said, I’m a Judi Dench fan. I particularly loved her in this role as an older woman. She showed a sense of confidence and comfort. She didn’t shy away from close-ups. Instead she showed the world that its possible to be in you seventies and still be beautiful.
My eldest daughter and I saw this film together. We shared the same opinion. We’ve talked about the film at length and have also talked about other Judi Dench films. I checked our local library catalogue and discovered the library has quite a few. I’ve challenged myself to watch a bunch of her movies throughout 2014. Keep watching this blog as I plan to share my discoveries with you. In the meantime, do try to see Philomena. I believe you’ll enjoy it.