-Martin Sixsmith: Fucking Catholics.
There's always something heart-warming when you sit down to watch a film about self-discovery and atonement. And it's always equally surprising when you enjoy the film more than you initially anticipated.
'Philomena' tells the real life story of Philomena Lee, who after years of keeping mum, she went seeking for her long lost son. When former journalist Martin Sixsmith is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what do. That changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena, who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about her search for him that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son's fate. Furthermore, both find their basic beliefs challenged. (source: www.imdb.com)
Steve Coogan (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, Hot Fuzz, In the Loop, Tropic Thunder), who co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope, also stars as the gifted yet misunderstood journalist who is trying to find himself after his horrendous dismisal from the BBC. Coogan has proven time and time again what a brilliant comedian he is, but with this one he goes one step further in showing to the wide audience that drama suits him equally well.
The sensitivity and the humanity in which both Coogan and Dame Judi Dench treated Lee's real life story is extraordinary. Two very un-similar characters onto a journey of soul searching. The humourous blends ever so subtly with the dramatic, keeping the viewer to sympathize even, with what the characters are going through. Who said that drama can't be hilarious? This film proves that even evil nuns can have their funny side.
In all seriousness though, the genious behind the film is truly owed to the evocative story of the real Philomena Lee and the man who sought out to make her story be heard. Coming to add a little bit more of his genious is Oscar nominated director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons), who makes sure that his audience does not fall into the trap of the melo-drama, but instead builds up the suspsense in sweet down-to-earth agony of where this story could end.
The film is beautifully shot in locations between Ireland, England and the United States, giving the viewer a travelling feast between the then and now moments, whilst at the same time raising some serious fundamental issues regarding religion and faith. Cleverly so, the writers implemented their stories with philosophical and moral questions such as 'Is there God?' or 'Should one believe in God?' or 'How do you keep your faith, even after the nuns sell your child to the Americas?'. Coming back to an age where a good Catholic girl should be pious and pure, Philomena Lee had sinned, and for her mistake, she was punished rightly so, by having her son taken away from her.
The humanity and the empathy in which Dench operates as Philomena is remarkable. Her humility and her strength to forgive makes us realize that there are greater things to hold onto nowadays than the anger that we are taught not to let go in modern day society. This wholesome feeling of faith is what truly inspires audiences and what makes them connect to Philomena's story.
A very heart-warming film that it is definitely worth a watch. Albeit nominated for Best Picture as well, it rightly deserves its place in the list.