Movie Review: Philomena

Steve Coogan, Judi Dench

I had no idea that Philomena was based on real events, much less a book, until I saw the movie. The real story (as well as the movie) is fascinating: a young teenager is taken in by the Catholic church after becoming pregnant, and then, when her child is three years old, he's sold to American parents. The book, called The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, explores this tale, and it is this on which the movie is based.

Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an Irish woman, is looking at an old photograph of her son, who would have been fifty years old that day. She decides to share her story, never before told, with her daughter, who by chance meets Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) at a party soon afterwards, and the daughter asks him to help her mother find Anthony, the son; he used to be a journalist with the BBC. Sixsmith is ornery about the idea at first, but then agrees to write it as a human interest story, and soon he and Philomena find themselves flying to America in the hopes of tracking down Anthony. What they find is surprising, and the back story behind his adoption is shadier than they first realized.

This film made very good use of flashbacks, especially at the beginning of the movie. Sophie Kennedy Clark plays a young Philomena, who gets pregnant by a boy she adores. The nuns take her in on the condition that she gives up her baby to the church, with the possibility of adoption, which she agrees to; but one day, they take Anthony from her without even letting her say goodbye. Present-day Philomena (Dench) has always wondered what happened to him, and wonders if he has been thinking of her as well all these years.

Dench and Coogan are great in this film. I'm a big fan of Dench's, as she's fantastic in almost every movie she's in, and although I haven't seen Coogan in much recently, he was good as the part of Martin Sixsmith, who begins to get to know Philomena more and toys with the idea of not even writing the story at all, even though his editor wants all the juicy details. The nuns in this movie were also interesting, too, especially the older ones who ruled the convent when Philomena lived there.

Yes, see this movie, but be aware you may need to bring some Kleenex. I'd like to read the book now to know more about Philomena, and to see how closely the film follows it. I love movies based on true stories, and this is an interesting story to boot; I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story.

Philomena is currently playing in theaters, and is rated R with a runtime of 98 minutes. 4 stars out of 5.

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