While Philomena could have been yet another story of the exploitation, misguided management, control and abuse of those under the care of the Catholic Church, it delivers more by delving into one woman’s journey and the reluctant and cynical journalist who helps her. Philomena, abandoned in disgrace to the Sean Ross Abbey in County Tipperary, Ireland, yearns for the three-year-old son who had been taken from her almost 50 years ago. She turns to Martin Sixsmith, an out-of-work, ex-BBC current-affairs correspondent, to help her trace her child. Fearing a downward spiral into depression, the reporter who usually scorns, ‘human interest stories,’ desperately takes on the challenge.
Steven Coogan, British actor and comedian, co-wrote and produced the real-life story and also took on the role of Martin Sixsmith. Dame Judi Dench commands her role as Philomena Lee and gives an accurate performance of the Irish woman. A contradiction on many levels, Philomena appears innocent at times, with her diet of light-weight, romance novels and her unsophisticated, wide-eyed delight of their trip overseas. Yet, she also displays shrewdness in assessing a situation, strength in her faith, determination in her quest and is not backward in pointing out Sixsmith’s character flaws.
The unlikely duo uncover more than they expect and in doing so, test the mettle of each other’s character. The film could have justifiably leaned heavily and sombrely on the churches’ abuse, depicted in The Magdalene Sisters for example, but Coogan, with the help of Director Stephen Frears, provides relief by revealing the light hearted and comedic aspects of the unintentional exchanges between Lee and the at times, arrogant Sixsmith.
Philomena’s down-to-earth philosophy can be summed up with the words she spoke in the story, ‘just because you’re in first class, doesn’t make you a first class person.’ Her final, magnanimous gesture astounds both Sixsmith and the world at large and is still the topic of conversation among the religious and non-religious today.
Philomena is well-worth seeing and no doubt, will earn some awards at the Academy.
© Wendy Robinson 2013
Mankind has made progress through culture and behind every generation, there is the fragrance of the past, it is as indelible as a fingerprint. We feel the present through traces of history. ~ Anon