Year Released: 2013
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
(PG-13, 94 min.)
For 50 years Philomena has kept the secret. Now she wonders what has happened to the son she was foreced to give up for adoption. It’s a heart-wrenching true story, one that could easily turn sentimental, maudlin, or preachy. But Judi Dench does not allow that to happen.
Thrown out by her father when he discovers her pregnant, the teenage Philomena is forced into the infamous Magdalene laundries for wayward Irish girls. There she gives birth with no anesthetic, part of the penance the church thinks she deserves. But the worst pain of all is watching her toddler drive away with his new adoptive parents while she watches helplessly from an upstairs window.
Steve Coogan plays the cynical journalist Martin Sixsmith who reluctantly agrees to chronicle her search for him in America, and the interplay between the two is what makes the film. Philomena is naïve; she loves to tell Sixsmith the details of the cheap romance novels she devours with regularity. As a literary snob who considers this assignment beneath him, he is predictably disdainful.
Neither can Sixsmith believe Philomena thinks the chocolates left on the American hotel bed are a thoughtful gift and not merely a marketing ploy. Unlike the devout Philomena, he finds the past cruelties of the Catholic church’s role in the infamous laundries as well as the current deceptions about it unforgiveable.
And that is where the film separates itself from the herd. Because Sixsmith’s untempered scorn is every bit as limiting as Philomena’s sometimes naïve goodwill. Ultimately, Philomena lends a grace and dignity to Sixsmith’s righteous anger that gives her the courage to unveil the ultimate betrayal and face it without flinching.
And a sort of separate peace reigns between them as the truth sets her free. Let’s toast this fine lady with authentic Irish Coffee,creamy-rich and hearty, with a little kick in it, too.