★★★★★ | Philomena
It’s Anthony’s 50th birthday, a fact that Jane discovers when she finds her mother Philomena crying over an old photograph.
Anthony is the son that she had out of wedlock as a teenager in Ireland and who was forcibly taken by nuns and given away for adoption. It’s a tale that she has kept to herself for all these years but she can longer hold back on wanting to know whatever became of him.
A chance meeting leads Jane to Martin Sixsmith a former BBC journalist who just had to resign as a government spin doctor over a scandal and was now at a loose end. As an ex-foreign correspondent used to loftier matters he initially resisted the approach to investigate Philomena’s story as he considered human interest pieces beneath him. But he did reluctantly take on the project even though he initially had a great deal of difficulty adapting to Philomena and her world. She was still a devout Catholic, and a retired nurse with very simple tastes, plainly spoken and completely unworldly. And he was ex Oxbridge & Harvard, having spent years as the BBC’s correspondent in Moscow & Washington and was urbane, sophisticated and very sarcastic.
They started by taking a trip together back to the convent in Ireland where the baby had been born. Philomena still believed that the nuns would help her in her search even though all those years ago they had been prepared to let her die as a penance for her sins when it was a difficult breach birth. However, they drew a blank as the nuns claimed that all the papers relating to all the babies born there had been burned in a fire long ago. But later at the local pub where they were lodging, Martin learned that the nuns had burned all the evidence because they had actually been selling all the babies off to wealthy families in the USA.
Now that he senses that there is a real story to tell, he gets a contract with a magazine that will finance the next part of their search which will mean them both of flying to Washington D.C. to investigate any leads they can get from adoption agencies on immigration officials to find Anthony. Finding the son who was given away turned out to easier than even the intrepid journalist believed. However not only was it not the outcome that either of them had wished for, but it was what they also discovered about themselves as a result that had a profound effect on them both.
Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) is so back on form with this wonderful new movie after his last three misfires. Based on a true story written by Martin Sixsmith …. and with a script co-written by Steve Coogan, who plays Martin in the movie … it’s a harrowing heartbreaking tale that fills one with so many emotions. In fairness, it starts out slowly, but once Philomena hits her stride and you begin to realise that this is far from a predictable birth-mother and child reunion story, that you start to choke up … and get angry too.
Dame Judi Dench reunited with Mr Frears (Mrs Henderson Presents) is flawless as Philomena, who she reveals has this wonderful sense of wicked humour, and on certain matters is a lot more worldly than we ever expected. Her rigid belief in her faith regardless of all the evil she uncovers is both remarkable and totally convincing, albeit hard to approve off. Despite all that she went through, she asks for very little ….’I’d just like to know what he thought of me, I have thought about him every day’. And she does at least get that. It is a breath-taking performance.
Steve Coogan plays Sixsmith rather drolly as a total non-believer and in the investigation itself is the ‘bad cop’ to her ‘good cop’ role. He and Philomena hold different views on almost everything, but as the search moves closer to its conclusion they develop a close bond together and a deep respect for each other.
This movie will probably end up on my year’s Best Movie List … I think it best to go into this movie knowing no more of the plot than what I have revealed here, but there is a very specific reason why all readers of thegayuk.com will so relate too it. Although I should perhaps share that you will more than one pack of kleenex handy, and also if you had a low opinion of the morals of Catholic nuns before this, you will discover that they are even more despicable evil than that. Urgh!
Such a treat.