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In Irish History, the Catholic Church had been responsible for destroying many young women’s lives, by shaming them for having children out of wedlock and sentencing them to labor camps. Philomena Lee is one of them.
Martin Sixsmith (Steven Coogan) is a former BBC correspondence in Russia and America and recently lost his job as a Government spin-doctor. Jobless and with little in his book on Russian History, Martin stumbles on the case of Philomena, a religious Irish woman who reveals she had a child as a teenager and was taken away to be adopted by an American family. Taking on the story Martin and Philomena go to Ireland and Washington D.C. to find Philomena’s son.
Philomena is an actor’s movie, a showcase for top performances. Dench is excellent in the title role, giving a grounded, believable performance of a woman with modest tastes who is excited by the prospects of luxuries and gets the balance right between the dramatic and the lighter. Dench works well with Coogan, as he has some funny lines, but also shows a more serious, passionate side as he seeks justice for Philomena.
Philomena is centered the relationship between Philomena and Martin and their differences. These differences manifest in a number ways, one being culturally as Philomena is a kind hearted woman, while Martin is a well educated snob, with an awkward sense of humor. Philomena is a religious woman and Martin is an atheist, leading the pair to clash over their ideologies, their views of God and how could someone be religious and forgiving after what happened to Philomena. Martin grows from someone seeking a good story to someone who wants to do the right thing, growing as a character.
With religion clashing between both Philomena and Martin Philomena also looks at the institution of the Catholic Church. While there are some decent people within the Church and the personalities of people leading the church have changed, the Catholic Church as an organization have covered-up many things that they have done and not are willing to face up to their liability and guilt. Yet, Philomena does showcase the difference between personal faith and organised corruption.
The Queen‘s Stephen Frears directed Philomena and though he has a hit and miss record, he directs Philomena with competence. Frears is able to use a number of approaches, doing a mini remake of The Magdalene Sister with Sophie Kennedy Clark did an excellent job playing the young Philomena and hopefully has a long career ahead of her. Frears was able to blend the drama and comedy, bringing out wit of Coogan and Jeff Pope’s script whilst keep the dramatic tone. Frears has some visual flourishes with film footage of Anthony growing up in America and brief look of gravestones of girls in the abbey.
Philomena is a superbly acted movie, that Dench should be nominated for a number of awards. It is a movie a lot to say about personal relationships, the rights of a woman and a mother, faith and institutional failings and corruption.