The Stephen Frears-directed Philomena is based on British journalist Martin Sixsmith‘s nonfiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Steve Coogan, who plays Sixsmith in the film, co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope.
When the film opens, Philomena (Judi Dench) is about to admit a major secret to her adult daughter: about 50 years ago, as a young unmarried woman, she gave birth to a son in an Irish convent. At the age of four Anthony was then given by the nuns to an adoptive couple—with no regard for his mother’s wishes or feelings.
Sixsmith, who’s been bounced from his civil service position in the wake of a political scandal and who’s therefore in need of career redirection, agrees to help Philomena find her son—despite his distaste for writing “human interest” stories.
Watch the trailer below:
Claudia Puig, USA Today:
Philomena is still a devout woman, despite her cruel treatment from severe Irish nuns as a young girl (sensitively played in flashbacks by Sophie Kennedy Clarke). She was bound in a kind of indentured servitude at the convent — three years of labor in the convent laundry in exchange for the medical care she and her young son received.
Philomena Lee’s cheery strength and quiet determination is deeply moving. She will not be made into a victim, nor does she lose her abiding faith.
Inkoo Kang, Village Voice: “‘After the sex, I thought anything so lovely must be wrong,’ the vulnerable but unflappable Philomena confesses about her first time, lowering her head in pensive regret. Her slow journey toward finally feeling worthy enough to hold her head high is surprising, upsetting, and not to be missed.”
MARTIN AND “PHIL”
Bob Mondello, NPR: “The two meet, and click — awkwardly — and there they are, a humor-challenged, working-class grandmother yearning for her long-lost son, and a snarky, upper-crust writer yearning for redemption. Matched recovery stories: How’s that for human interest?”
Inkoo Kang, Village Voice: “Since the film’s structure is based on a series of revelations — each one unexpected and unfailingly moving — they shouldn’t be recounted here. But it gives away nothing to say that their long trip together provides plenty of opportunities for the two characters to passionately debate religion and journalistic ethics, while the friction between their worldviews offers silent commentary on the perniciousness of British class inequality.”
Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: “Martin and Philomena articulate this balance literally: He questions religion, she defends it. He demands outrage, she expresses forgiveness. The movie wouldn’t stand for much of anything without such an effective team to represent the equivocating.”
Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Director Stephen Frears compassionately chronicles an emotional personal odyssey and intelligently explores a larger socio-cultural issue. The shame that the Catholic Church imposed on unwed mothers is made palpable. The church in Ireland is also exposed for profiting from the adoptions of these babies.”
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “What’s particularly shocking is the ability of some of these women to see the unwed mothers in their charge as almost subhuman, as outside the realm of normal consideration. The result was an epic distortion of Christianity, with people lobbing first and second stones who had no business even getting near a rock.”
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “…(A)t its core, this clever, wrenching, profound story underscores the tenacity of faith in the face of unfathomable cruelty. Evil may be good, story-wise. But virtue, at its most tested and tempered, is even better.”
Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Philomena makes a winning holiday movie, embodying the ideals of what the season is truly about: forgiveness, kindness and goodwill toward one’s fellow man.”
Inkoo Kang, Village Voice: “Given that grim premise, Philomena is remarkably funny, with stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan amiably sharing the comic spotlight.”
Rex Reed, New York Observer: “It’s profoundly moving and thoroughly mind provoking, but despite the poignant subject matter, I promise you will not leave Philomena depressed. I’ve seen it twice and felt exhilarated, informed, enriched, absorbed and optimistic both times. This is filmmaking at its most refined. I will probably forget most of what happened at the movies in 2013, but I will never forget Philomena.”