Three and a half stars
The movie “Philomena” is a powerful new movie on the true story of a women searching for a son she gave up years ago. Based on a book by Martin Sixsmith, “Philomena” brings together two people who are both reeling from problems in their past. One is a journalist who had a very public firing and the other a women who is haunted by the son she was forced to give up. Judi Dench gives a powerful performance as Philomena, who is constantly having a look of pain on her face but also keeps a positive outlook on her faith and forgiveness of those around her. Martin (Steve Coogan) is a bit more cynical, as he doesn’t share her faith in the very church, which made her give up her son. Together they go from Britain to America, trying to figure out what happened to her son. Steve sees it as a human-interest story at first but along the way, learns to put away some his snobbery and see things from Philomena’s point of view.
The film is directed by the wonderful Stephen Frears, who has directed some very good movies like “Dirty Pretty Things”, “The Queen” and “High Fidelity”, which is one of my personal favorites. He does a very good job of shooting this movie, using real footage of Philomena’s son intercut with the movie. I like how he didn’t make it overly dramatic and more of just a story about this women figuring out what happened to her son. Of course, something that has to be addressed is the role the Catholic Church played in this film. They are the ones who took Philomena and her son in, when she was young. They are also the ones who made her give up her son. They do not come off looking good, but I wouldn’t say this film is anti-Catholic. Philomena is a very good person throughout the film, and that is in part to her keeping her faith. She is forgiving.
I like the relationship she develops with Martin. They together have good chemistry and learn to understand each other a bit more. Martin gets angry at what has been done to Philomena. Judi Dench is always good in just about everything she is in. The pain on her face is very believable throughout the film. Steve and Philomena start to develop a very deep respect for each other, and there’s a scene towards the end where Martin finally starts to see things through Philomena’s eyes and does something very nice.
Nothing in the movie is resolved, except for the fact that sometimes institutions don’t do right by their own people. The church that Philomena lived at as a young girl didn’t do right by her, or her child. They are so stuffy they can’t even get over the fact that they considered what she did a sin. The film focuses, though, mostly on bringing these two people together in a kind of understanding of each other. A comedian, Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay, plays Martin and he does a very good job. He goes from stuffy, and the audience sides with him at times because we know he is right about the injustice of what the church did to Philomena and her son.
However, we also see the world through Philomena’s eyes. She isn’t quite ready to get angry at the church that separated her from her son. She says in one scene that she wants to forgive because she doesn’t want to remain angry. Martin doesn’t quite get why she would forgive. However, at the end, he does learn a bit about why she needs to move on. Sometimes moving on is the only way people can forgive. Philomena didn’t do anything wrong, despite what the Church considers a sin.
It should be noted, though, that this is a movie that works because of the people who made it. It’s not a movie of the week. It’s a sad and true story. We may not walk out of the theater quite understanding in our modern takes on things why Philomena is so willing to forgive, but we do understand Philomena’s willingness to move on because of the great performance of Judi Dench. Forgiveness is easy. Moving on is hard.