Martin Sixsmith was a foreign correspondent who became a spin doctor in Tony Blair’s administration. When he lost that job, he resorted to supporting himself as a freelance journalist. He is eventually approached at a party by a young woman who asks him to investigate a story her mother recently told her. He does and, in 2009, Sixsmith’s book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee is published. And, now, Philomena’s story — part tale of horror and all tale of love — has been made into a film.
This is a quiet film, propelled by Philomena’s desperation and Judi Dench’s beautiful, dignified performance in the title role. Steve Coogan, the British comedian who co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope, plays Sixsmith, who morphs from reporter just doing another story into Philomena’s partner, trying to find out what happened to her child.
Like many other Irish Catholic girls in the early 1950s, a pregnant 18 year-old Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) was an embarrassment to her family and, thus, was sent to a convent to have the baby. She was assigned to work in the laundry there and, after the child — whom she named Anthony — was born, she was allowed to see him for one hour every evening. When he was three, he was adopted by an American couple and, after a heartbreaking moment when he is taken away and Philomena realizes what’s happening, she is never to see him again.
She ultimately marries and has a family and finally tells her story to her grown daughter. The daughter’s approach to the journalist leads to a road trip by mother and writer that takes them, first, to the convent and, then, to America.
Philomena has been nominated for four Academy Awards (Best Picture, Dench, adapted screenplay, best music) and has proven very successful at the box office.
While Coogan and Dench give excellent performances, major credit for the tone of the film has to go to director Stephen Frears. In all, Philomena is a beautifully made, provocative and thought-provoking movie.