Times were different when young, Irish-Catholic Philomena Lee was sent, pregnant and shamed, to the convent in Roscrea, Ireland.
It’s here she paid her penance and gave birth to her son. It was also here that her son was taken from her without warning or explanation.
Times were different…
Does that make it okay? Of course not. Does that make them all evil? That’s left for you to decide.
Fifty years later Philomena (Judi Dench) finally tells her daughter about the son that was taken all those years ago, and is taken under the reluctant wing of journalist Martin Sixsmith.
Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is a recently framed (and consequently un-employed) journalist who’s thinking about “writing a book on Russian history.”
Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) is kindness and forgiveness personified.
To call them an unlikely pair is an understatement.
When they uncover that many of the children taken from the convent were sold to wealthy American families, their journey brings them to America and Washington D.C. It’s here that Philomena is faced with the heartache of the past, and ultimately led right back to where it all began—Roscrea.
It would be easy to hate these women for what they had done to Philomena and countless other young women over the years. Philomena does not and Martin just does not understand how.
At the onset Martin is a snarky, jaded, mildly depressed cynic, who’s begrudgingly taken on a human interest story, a genre he deems less than newsworthy. He doesn’t understand how she can be anything but angry about what happened to her, and angry at the Church that he blames for the crimes.
There’s a scene where Philomena makes Martin pull the car over at this church so that she can go to confession. It enrages him that she thinks she has anything to confess, and it’s easy to see why.
[Sidebar: This reviewer’s mother happened to be in D.C. when “Philomena” was being filmed, and attended a mass said by the priest who served as a consultant for this film. If we’re lucky, she might recount that tale in the comments section below.]
What he initially sees as her folly ultimately comes forth as her strength. True forgiveness is not easy.
Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the screenplay, brings a levity to what could easily be a very angry character. Dame Judi Dench is as much pure joy as Philomena herself. Together they are as unlikely a pair as the characters they portray and similarly they are an absolute delight.
The crimes committed against Philomena and all of the girls sent to Roscrea were unimaginably cruel and perhaps unforgivable, but the journey in this film is one of light, love, and (against all odds) forgiveness.