Judd: Martin Sixsmith, an author, BBC newscaster and political adviser was resigned from his post by the Blair administration after being misquoted about the 9/11 tragedies. During his time figuring out his future, he meets a woman, Philomena Lea, who spent her youth in Magdelene Laundries after giving birth out of wedlock. It was not unusual for unwed Irish mothers in the 1950s to be taken in by a convent, put into forced labor and have their children adopted—aka sold—to rich American parents. Catholic compassion at its best. While the movie, Philomena, combines some of the steps and persons involved in Philomena’s life, the situation was real and the current facts outshine the small tweaking done to the past.
Steve Coogan, who in my eyes has had a very hit and miss career, not only expertly plays Martin Sixmith, but gets screenwriting credit as well. Judi Dench plays Philomena. While the role isn’t meaty enough for an Oscar nomination, Dench portrays Philonmena’s inner-turmoil with deft subtlety. Philomena is torn between blaming herself and the church for her situation, and even in her blame of the church, she maintains that they “had the best intentions.” The conflict is not only hers, internally, but also between Philomena and Sixsmith. Sixmith is a vocal atheist and has no qualms calling out the Church on its transgressions. Philomena needs Sixsmith’s help but she’s dubious of his motivations.
The movie takes an unexpected and surprising gay turn when we find out that Philomena’s son turned out to be Michael Hess, a closeted gay lawyer for the Reagan administration. Much like how the Catholic Church treated women like Philomena “for their own good,” gays still alive from that time remember all too well how Reagan treated us during his time in office. Well, not me. I’m far too young—but Tom remembers. It’s an uncanny coincidence between Philomena’s fate and her son’s; Lives dictated and skewed by the baseless morality of others.
I won’t go into the movie any further, as I’m already teetering on spoilers, but Philomena is a fantastic movie that demonstrates a mother’s love for her son. The script is excellent and does not give in to exploitation or melodrama. Stephen Frears, the director, keeps the movie moving along at the perfect pace and never wallows in moments a lesser director would capitalize on for emotional impact.
Judd: 4 Stars