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The true story of Philomena Lee (Judy Dench), an Irishwoman who, as a teenager (Sophie Kennedy Clark), gave birth to a son out of wedlock.

Stephen Frears 10/10

Sent by her Catholic family to Magdelane convent in County Tipperary, she was forced to endure tough labour, along with the trauma of watching as her child was driven away by his new American parents. Now she is in her seventies, and Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), returning to journalism after a mistimed joke lost him his job as a spin doctor, is helping to find her son.  

Although his Oxford-groomed arrogance follows him through the film, beginning with the haughty manner with which he meets the very notion of a human interest story: "I don't do those," Martin Sixsmith is seen in the very last scene to be affected by the kind nature of Philomena.

The subtlety with which the character of Philomena Lee develops, from a seemingly vulnerable elderly woman to someone with great strength, most notably in her determination both to find her son and to maintain her Catholic faith, makes the contribution of the true Philomena Lee in the production of the film all the more evident. 

Balanced with tragedy and injustice, humour is fitted seamlessly into the film, adding both to the entertainment and to the contrasting personalities of Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith. I particularly liked Sixsmith's understatement: "I've never been to a Harvester," during his first meeting in Philomena's favourite restaurant. 

The film managed to leave an impression on me. My hope to become a journalist was met with Martin Sixsmith's indispensible lesson in what not to do. His initial disregard for the truth in Philomena's life, as a result of his obsession with the "goody" and the "baddy," would have led to a shallow article minimising an extraordinary story, were it not for the equally extraordinary personality of Philomena.

Whilst holding the Catholic church to account, the lasting message in Philomena is not a negative one towards religion. In fact, Philomena's unwavering faith and forgiveness highlights the strength of true Christian values. In this way, the film interrogates the Catholic institution, not the individual. 

Directed by: Stephen Frears
Produced by: Gabrielle Tan, Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward
Written by:  Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Starring:  Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

  • Date published: 17th November 2013
  • Written by: Siobhan Middleton

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