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Film Review: 'Philomena'

Janet Lee |
November 24, 2013 | 2:07 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Judi Dench as Philomena Lee and Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith in "Philomena" (Weinstein Company).
Judi Dench as Philomena Lee and Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith in "Philomena" (Weinstein Company).
Never mistake humility for weak-mindedness.

Stephen Frears’ “Philomena” tells the true story of Philomena Lee, the Irish woman who was forced to put her son up for adoption and after nearly 50 years of silence, sought to find her long-lost child.  

This film was adapted from Martin Sixsmith’s book, "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee."

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It is none other than the delightful Judi Dench who brings Philomena to life on the big screen. Philomena has been trapped in tyranny for most of her life, having been encased under the oppression of nuns and being pushed away from truth.

Being pregnant at 16, she was disowned from her family and sent away to a convent where she gave birth and slaved away at a laundry room for 4 years. The Catholic Church sent her son away for adoption and for nearly 50 years, Philomena, consumed with guilt, kept it a secret. She finally breaks her silence and journeys on a bumpy road to find her son. 

Although, she has been through a heavy load, Philomena is a humble, faithful, and religious woman. She is probably the sweetest being ever alive to exist, blanketed with a bounty of sunshine and flowers. Her high optimism shocks us, but it is simply who she is and later on, as we learn, who she chooses to be. 

Giving that fact, it becomes quite interesting once former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a cynic and an atheist, comes into the picture. Philomena’s daughter, Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin) connects him with her mother but he initially declines, stating that these human-interest stories are for “weak-minded ignorant people,” which pretty much sums up his character. 

Having been recently sacked, he decides to give it a go and pursue Philomena’s story. But he pursues it with a hungry, single-minded mentality. As Philomena shares her story during their first meeting, he jots down things like “evil nuns.” “Evil is good, story-wise,” he blatantly states. 

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During their journey, personalities clash in both humorous and serious ways, that amplifies as they find more shocking discoveries and religion is tested. Martin and Philomena brew a dynamic relationship that is very intriguing to watch.

Sarcastic, snobbish, and cynical, Martin comes from a privileged background and often plays the game of cat and mouse in his social and professional career. While Philomena, a faithful, humble, and cheerful commoner who loves to discuss romance novels and use the term, “one in a million.” It is rather charming when we see Philomena awed by first-class hotels and buffet restaurants in America.  

Martin is a realist for the wrong reasons, but we identify with him. Philomena sees good in everyone and everything that gradually frustrates him. We take her as a gentle and weak soul and Martin tries to shake Philomena out of that box.

But we cannot underestimate her, as Philomena is in fact, a realist herself for the right reasons. She possesses a strong moral character that teaches Martin, and us, a profound lesson on resentment and humility. 

“I’m angry,” Martin retorting states. “It must be exhausting,” Philomena replies. 

The film’s timing is good but a little too good. As far as the plot goes, events unfold in a way that work too favorably in the direction of the characters’ emotions. Areas where there is room for tension, the film goes the easy route. 

Nevertheless, it possesses great performances by both actors with a great script that will undoubtedly catch the attention of the Academy. Dench, whom we are often used to seeing play intimidating bold characters, does a tremendous job in embodying a delightfully comedic and bittersweet character. Coogan, a renowned British comic and co-writer of “Philomena,” entertains and moves us with his ability to intertwine sarcasm seamlessly into the drama. 

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“Philomena” examines character relations between two different individuals who travel to dismantle truth that deserves to be uncovered and connects it with a larger issue of the Catholic Church and adoption policies in Ireland. 

The film does not criticize the Church or religion, which is wise. There are unjust institutions in our society, but that does not give us any reason to criticize individuals who live their lives based on faith and church. They are decent people and thus, we must respect them for how they choose to live their life.

Watch the trailer below. 

Reach Staff Reporter Janet Lee here. Follow her on Twitter



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