I came across Philomena when I looked at the line-up for the 2013 British Film Festival – but I didn’t get the chance to buy the ticket for the movie nor for other films which I thought would be good to see. I thought I would go and see the movie when it is released later on. Then, I came across an offer on Facebook to see a “Secret Screening” movie today at 6.30pm at a theatre in town – where people who receive the tickets come to see a movie that they know nothing about. I got the ticket, to my delight. I like the concept very much as it preempts me from having any preconceived ideas nor looking at any rating websites or reviews.
So when an official-looking man announced at the front of the theatre that we would be watching Philomena, I was very pleased.
The movie is based on a true story about Philomena Lee (played beautifully by Dame Judi Dench) – an Irish lady who was forced to give up her boy – Anthony – in the 1950’s. The movie depicts Philomena as a down-to-earth and sincere lady, who still has the gullibility and innocence that she has carried on from her younger years. Not knowing about the birds and the bees, she met a boy at a fair in Limerick and then subsequently fell pregnant. Her father gave her up to the convent, where she delivered the baby, and had to work in the laundry room to pay off the cost to the upbringing. In 1955, Anthony was put up for adoption. Fifty years later, she couldn’t bear the secret any longer and told her daughter about her story. With the help of Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a BBC journalist and an ex-Labor spindoctor, she found out what happened to Anthony and unraveled the cover-ups and lies that the Sean Ross Abbey at Roscrea, Ireland.
Stephen Frears – the director – handles the sensitive issue carefully (albeit a bit too ‘middle-of-the-road’ at times) and never sways too far into melodrama or soap opera. Judy Dench portrays Philomena remarkably as a woman who has carried a huge burden through the years and yet reserves a huge heart for everybody and a faith in God. Steve Coogan is the balancing act as a cynical and world-weary Martin Sixsmith. I would love to write more about what happens in the movie but I want you to also discover the story yourself. I left the theatre feeling profoundly sorry for Philomena and being angry at the nuns at the convent – hiding behind the so-called godly laws and values and yet forgetting one of the key teachings of Christ, that is, to love one another. For them to knowingly sell babies of the so-called ‘shamed’ Irish mothers over to wealthy families in the US and then to deliberately prevent any happy reunions is just appalling and makes me quite upset.
I just have a tiny criticism of the movie – which some people may consider very trivial. I am a huge fan of Alexandre Desplat’s music when he composed the score for The Painted Veil, however the music for Philomena leaves me a bit cold. Maybe Desplat doesn’t want to overpower the poignant story or manipulate the viewers’ emotions, but unfortunately the music doesn’t provide any subtle boost that it could have given. I enjoyed The Painted Veil so much more because of the lush soundtrack. That said, Philomena is a movie to see at the end of 2013, if only to witness the brilliance of Dame Judi Dench.