Film Review by Kam Williams
Philomena Lee (Dame Judi Dench) made a big mistake as a teenager, namely, having unprotected sex with a cute boy (D.J. McGrath) she had just met at a carnival. The naive girl was left pregnant by the one-night stand, which was no minor matter in Ireland in 1952.
Before she had a chance to disgrace her family by showing signs of bearing an illegitimate child, she was shipped off to a convent to have the baby away from public view. There, she was forced to sign a document not merely relinquishing her parental rights but promising to never even ask to see her son again.
Without her being afforded an opportunity to say goodbye, he was adopted by a wealthy family from the United States at the age of 3 and whisked away to the city Chicago. Meanwhile, Philomena remained beholden to the abbey where, like a latter-day indentured servant, she continued to serve at the beck-and-call of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart order. Although she would eventually escape the convent and pursue a career in nursing, Philomena remained forever haunted by the conspicuous emptiness left by Anthony’s absence.
Fast-forward to his 50th birthday, and she was still consumed with worry about his fate. So, she enlisted the help of Martin Hixsmith (Steve Coogan), a recently-disgraced investigative journalist conveniently in need of a shot at redemption. And, after being denied access to any of the convent’s adoption records, the unlikely pair departed for America together with just a few clues to follow.
Directed by two-time Oscar-nominee Stephen Frears (for The Queen and The Grifters), Philomena is a true tale of overwhelming regret based on “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,” Hixsmith’s heart-wrenching account of their desperate quest. Dame Judi Dench turns in another inspired performance as a wayward woman from a humble background who belatedly summons up the strength to search for her son and to take on the sadistic Mother Superior (Barbara Jefford) who had been the bane of her existence.
As much a poignant meditation on motherhood lost as a searing indictment of the Catholic Church’s antiquated attitude about what might be in the best interests of an adopted child.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and sexual references.
Running time: 98 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
To see a trailer for Philomena, visit
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