Philomena begins with London-based journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) losing his position as an advisor to the Labour government. While contemplating his next career move, he is approached by a young woman at a party, the daughter of Philomena Lee, and suggests writing about her mother. Although initially opposed to the idea, he changes his mind after meeting Philomena.
It turns out that she had been forced to abandon her baby in 1951 after getting pregnant by a man she met at a fair, with her father then sending her to live at a convent in Ireland, where she was forced to work doing laundry seven days a week to pay for her stay for four years. The nuns themselves had secretly given her son up for adoption, and over the next five decades Philomena made repeated attempts at tracking him down, with little help from the convent offered.
What follows is a tale of deception and intrigue as Martin helps Philomena to uncover an adoption-for-profit ring at this convent. Later, they’re also able to establish the identity of Philomena’s son, who was a high-ranking lawyer in America for some years, and that Martin had incidentally met sometime in the past. It’s also discovered that he was a gay man that had already passed away eight years prior, having succumbed to AIDS. In his final days, he had gone to the convent in Ireland from which he’d been given up for adoption, trying to track down his biological mother, but the convent had turned him away just as they had turned away Philomena. Martin is incited to anger, but Philomena opts to forgive, while still urging Martin to publish the story.
“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. ”
— Rex Reed, New York Observer
“Director Stephen Frears deserves special mention. A lesser filmmaker could so easily have turned this project into mushy, sentimental junk. The tear-jerking moments here are heartfelt and real. It’s the kind of filmmaking we see too little of today.”
— Bill Zwecker, Chicago Sun-Times
“A trip to America bears its share of exasperated hotel-room humor, but watch both actors lean into characters seeking redemption; their clash is invigorating, with a mature payoff that has two minds meeting and getting further along. It’s a tonic to all the Oscar-season showboating: Call it Best Duo. ”
— Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
Did You Know?
Philomena is based on a true story, although some artistic license has been deployed in the final scenes of the film. The film was almost given an R-rating by the MPAA due to the single use of one word of profanity, causing the Weinstein Company to enter a complicated and lengthy appeals process that finally succeeded, awarding the film a PG-13 rating just a week before its release. Review our Gay Themed Films Here