Judi Dench ignites the screen with her performance as “Philomena Lee”; the true story a young, Catholic, Irish girl, who has a son out of wedlock in 1952; orphaned herself, she is housed in the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Roscrea, Ireland; where her son, at age three, is torn from her, adopted by an American family. For forty-seven years she carries an albatross of guilt and secrecy; eventually confiding in her daughter, who arranges an introduction to a former BBC Foreign correspondent, Martin Sixsmith; he reluctantly agrees to help Philomena in her quest to discover her lost “Anthony”.
Steve Coogan who co-wrote and produced the film is insightful, astute and insouciant in his portrayal of “Martin Sixsmith”; the pairing of this odd couple, their blossoming respect, blending of disparate educations and life styles, gifts the film a meaty enrichment, as their twisted journey is bombarded with painful vicissitudes, unexpected, emotional tests.
Philomena is the heart; Martin the conscience; but it is the punitive nature of the Catholic Church and its precepts that resonate at the core of “Philomena”; acceptance of one’s guilt and its commensurate punishment informs Philomena’s existence; her love and entrenched belief in her religion falters, but never fades; she committed a “mortal” sin and spends her life feeling her loss and pain are warranted; the outcome of one teenage act of indiscretion. “Sister Hildegarde” is the vindictive metaphor for penance gone awry; egregious cruelty, even death, justified by “human error”.
Scary, problematic issues were addressed in “The Catholic Church Stole My Child”, written by Martin Sixsmith, Philomena’s story of profound sadness, hypocrisy, a prime example of “man’s inhumanity to man”. It is a story worth telling, worth rectifying.
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!