PHILOMENA

Linnda Durre'

Directed by: Stephen Frears

 

Produced by: Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward

 

Written by: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

 

Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

 

Cinematography: Robbie Ryan

 

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

 

Release dates:

31 August 2013 (Venice Film Festival)

1 November 2013 (United Kingdom)

27 November 2013 (United States)

8 January 2014 (France)

 

Running time

95 minutes

 

 

AWARDS

 

2014 British Academy Film Awards

Best Adapted Screenplay

FILM REVIEW BY LINNDA DURRE'

 

SPOILER ALERTS!

 

Judi Dench, in the title role of this film based on a true story, shines in another Oscar worthy performance, as Philomena Lee, an older woman searching for her now adult son who was the three year old boy she raised in Roscrea Abbey, a Catholic orphanage where she went to have the child, but had to give him up for adoption 50 years before.

 

A romantic evening with a boyfriend resulted in a pregnancy and she was placed in a

home for "wayward girls" to give birth to her child, whom she called Anthony.

 

She had signed all her rights away to her son when she entered the home and orphanage, where she worked as an indentured laundress, similar to what happened to the girls in similar circumstances in the shocking film, "The Magdelene Sisters".

 

One of her best friends was also there in the same condition with a little daughter named Mary, who was inseparable from Anthony.  A doctor and his wife from the DC area decided to adopt Mary, who was inconsolable when separated from Anthony, so they adopted both children. Philomena confides all of this to her daughter Jane, played by Anna Maxwell Martin, who soon after at a party, meets journalist Martin Sexsmith, played by Steve Coogan.

 

Martin has just lost his job as a Labor government advisor and is at a career crossroads.  Jane tells him the story and he states he is not a "human interest story" writer. Having second thoughts and needing the work and the money, he relents when an editor likes the sound of the story and contracts him to write it.

 

At first, Philomena is hesitant, but he promises her his international contacts and Internet research skills from his previous employment as the BBC's man in DC.  She relents.

 

They first seek any adoption records and go to Roscrea Abbey, the home and orphanage in Ireland, where they encounter major stonewalling and an explanation from the nuns that all the records were burned in a fire. Later at a pub, Martin talks to a local man who plants seeds of doubt in Martin's mind about a fire.

 

Sensing a poignant and popular story, the editor agrees to foot the bill for their expenses and approves their round trip flight to and hotel stay in Washington, DC. Through his connections and Internet research, Martin has tracked down her son, now known as Michael Hess.

 

There are three important pieces of new information: 1) Michael worked in Reagan's administration as an advisor 2) he was gay and had AIDS and 3) he has died.

 

But they go to the U.S. anyway because she needs to get closure on this and he needs a powerful, heart wrenching story.  While in the DC area, they

 track down three people crucial to their story: 1) Mary, now grown with children of her own; 2) Marcia Weller, a female colleague who acted as Michael's "beard" for official government parties and events so his gayness could be kept a secret in the Reagan administration; and 3) Michael's former lover and partner, Pete Olsson.

 

In a photo with President Reagan, Martin identifies himself at a White House function standing near Michael Hess and, in a zoom in shot, he identifies the Irish harp pin on Michael's suit lapel, which gives both of them hope that he knew of his Irish heritage.

 

Their persistence pays off at Pete Olsson's front door and he lets Martin and Philomena in.  Pete tells them that Michael did everything he could to find his birth mother and even flew to Ireland to visit the Rosecrea Abbey, only to have the nuns tell him that they didn't know anything about the case.  More lies and stonewalling abound.

 

Pete also states that he had a difficult court battle with Michael's adoptive parents, because Michael stipulated in his will that he wanted to be buried in the Roscrea Abbey's cemetery to honor his birth mother and his Irish heritage.  During her visits there, Philomena was lied to by the nuns who kept that important information from her as well.

 

The last scenes portray a poignant confrontation between the nuns and Martin about their lies to both Michael and Philomena, which are especially heart wrenching, when telling the truth could have saved both of them so much sadness, guilt, and emotional turmoil. Philomena forgives the nuns. She and Martin go to the cemetery at the Roscrea Abbey, where Martin finds Michael's grave.

 

The ongoing dialogue laced throughout the film between Martin and Philomena about God, heaven, hell, the soul, the afterlife, sex, and forgiveness gives a religious and spiritual perspective from differing viewpoints, which frames the larger metaphysical and ethical issues of the film and is beautifully written.

 

Based on the book by Martin Sexsmith, "The Lost Child of Philomena Lea", Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope wrote the adapted screenplay and won Best Screenplay at the Toronto International Film Festival and the People's Choice Award with a First Runner Up Award at the Venice Film Festival and a BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

 

Directed by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons), the film was nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes and Best Film at BAFTA, with  Best Actress nominations for Judi Dench at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, SAG, and many other award ceremonies. Steve Coogan, Gabrielle Tana, and Tracey Seaward produced, with music by Alexandre Desplat, cinematography by Robbie Ryan, and editing by Valerio Bonelli.

 

 

©2015 Linnda Durre' , All Right Reserved