From the company that brought you “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The King’s Speech” comes “Philomena,” a new film based on the book written by Martin Sixsmith that tells the real-life story of an Irish woman whose undying hope propels her into a 50-year-long search to find her son who was taken from her as a toddler.
Philomena’s story is one of many involving Irish teen mothers in the 1950s who were sent to inhabit the “fallen women” shelters of Irish Catholic convents and surrender their children to the church.
At the start of the film, we catch a glimpse into the life young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark). When, as a teenagaer, Philomena discovers that she is pregnant, she is sent to the convent of Roscrea in Limerick, where abbey nuns take her three-year-old son and offer him up for adoption in America. The teen is impelled to sign a document ensuring that she “Never to Seek to Know” what became of her child.
For the next 50 years, Philomena embarks on a mission to reunite with the child she was unable to raise herself. She carries a small black and white picture of her son, Anthony, around with her her entire life. Every day she prays for Anthony, never neglecting to also pray for the nuns of Roscrea.
A large part of the movie is, as one might predict, disheartening, and it gets worse for a time when Philomena comes into contact with Sixsmith (writer and co-producer, Steve Coogan), a dejected political journalist and former BBC correspondent who has seen a great deal of the world and has lost faith in people along the way.
Perplexed and intrigued by the desperate mother, Sixsmith agrees to join the now elderly Philomena in her pursuit. The agnostic Oxford graduate embarks on a mission to vindicate the old Irish Catholic woman who lived a rural life and enjoys romance novels and Reader’s Digest.
Throughout their journey, many humorous dialogues take place between Philomena and Sixsmith as they drive through the beautiful Irish countryside, travel to United States capitol, and eventually trek back to Roscrea convent. All Philomena wants to to know is if her son ever thought of her or Ireland, or if he left his past far behind.
She constantly speculates about what could have become of Anthony. One of her fears is that he ended up on the streets or became obese “because of the portions” in America. Never once does Philomena place blame on anyone but herself, and she carries the shame of her sin into the confession booth every week.
The character of Philomena is a remarkable testament to those who maintain a sense of joy amidst gross injustice. She does not place her faith in worldly individuals guided by their own sense of what is just. For Philomena, bitterness and revenge are never options.
This image released by The Weinstein Company shows Judi Dench, left, and Steve Coogan in a scene from "Philomena." (Credit: AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Alex Bailey)
While Sixsmith’s intentions to bring Philomena justice are noble enough, the woman’s response to tragedy often frustrates him. She is less concerned with seeking reparations, for she knows that the past cannot be undone. Philomena’s sole endeavor is to reconnect with the child she never stopped loving, but even this goal does not divert her love and respect for all people. Her character is consistently patient and optimistic.
Sixsmith is pained that the one person whom Philomena seems unable to forgive is herself. She is constantly plagued by vivid flashbacks of her adolescent sin and her time at Roscrea. Her greatest source of guilt comes from this notion that her son might feel abandoned, and her sole desire is that her son know how deeply she cares for him.
Sixsmith’s heart is turned when he eventually finds that her faith is not a product of blind ignorance but of choice. The woman who lost everything is the greatest advocate for joy and forgiveness. Sixsmith can hardly comprehend when Philomena forgives the nun who lied to her for years about her son and his whereabouts.
The film shows how useless religious legalism, pride, and even justice are when love is absent. “Philomena” is laced with the recurring themes of shame, loss, faith, and hope. Coogan’s work succeeds in highlighting the human experience, and viewers will find that the film does not lack relatability.
“Philomena” hits theaters today.