Film Review: Philomena is a must see

philomena coogan dench’s Colin Delaney discovers a charming story of love and loss:

Philomena is the story of a good Irish Catholic mother Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) who enlists cynical journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to track down her son 50 years after he was taken from her. Coogan, with Jeff Pope, adapted the film from Sixsmith’s non-fiction The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a Fifty-Year Search.

It’s part detective story, part quaint English drama with heart-warming comedy in an ‘odd-couple’ dynamic that makes for a splendid little picture – so splendid it’s just been nominated for three Golden Globes: best actress for the Dame; best drama; and best screenplay.

With a deceased mother, becoming a pregnant teenager in 1952 Ireland carried a very grim prospect. Told through periodic flashbacks, Philomena Lee is dubbed a fallen woman and sent to the convent of Roscrea, with other young and out-of-wedlock mothers. She’s put to work in the convent and is only allowed one hour a day with her child Anthony, until as a toddler, he is adopted out by the nuns to an American couple and taken to the US.

Fast-forward 50 years, Philomena feels a sense of shame, as any respectable Catholic should, but also knows it’s unqualified given she has no idea how Anthony’s life has turned out. Meanwhile cynical Martin is an out of work journo at a crossroads. While attending a party, he’s approached by Philomena’s younger daughter Jane who’s overheard he’s looking for a story. Initially Martin feels the human interest story is below him but pitches it to a newspaper editor nonetheless and together Philomena and Martin embark on a trip to the US.

What develops is not only a charming relationship between the world-weary and wry Martin and the wide-eyed and positively upbeat Philomena but an intriguing mystery of what has happened to her son since she watched him disappear through the convent gates.

Dench’s Philomena is naïve yet accepting as she ventures both physically and emotionally beyond previously locked doors with Martin as her guide. Both actors play their parts, as expected, to aplomb.

Without spoilers, it’s difficult to delve too far into this story of love and loss, given it plays as a mystery but we’re left with a moving sense of ecstatic agony, amplified by the fact it’s a true story.

Definitely go see it.

Philomena is currently in cinemas in the UK and is released in Australia on Boxing Day.


Review by Colin Delaney