The latest based-on-a-true-story film to come out of Hollywood this season is “Philomena.”
Based on the 2009 book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, the film stars Judi Dench as Philomena Lee and Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith. The pair embark on a journey to find Philomena’s son, who she had to give up for forcible adoption by Irish nuns in the convent where she live during the 1950s.
What marks this story as extraordinary is the true to life drama that this story tells. Philomena worked in the Magdalene laundries, witnessed her son being adopted by an American family and held onto this secret for 50 years. The journey to finding Antony, or Michael as he became to be named, would be heartbreaking and empowering for the aging Philomena, and a hard lesson for reporter Sixsmith.
Judi Dench offers up an unbelievably personal and emotional performance once more. Her path as Philomena Lee is no easy one, and Dench pulls it off with grace, telling her story with a bit of Irish fire and tenderness, as the roller coaster Lee has put herself on hits bumps along the way that were less than expected.
Steve Coogan offers up a performance at odds with Dench’s Lee. Sixsmith is a former government official, disillusioned with what life has handed him, and scoffing at the idea of a human-interest story about a little old lady trying to find her son. He undergoes a change in character throughout the movie, as Sixsmith realizes that life is full of new opportunities and lashing out in bitter anger will only get one a taste of the same in the end.
The story of Philomena Lee runs the gamut of the emotional range. With laughter from the butting heads of Lee and Sixsmith, to the tears of realization that Philomena’s journey may not have the optimistic, happy ending we all hoped to see, audiences are drawn in and feel this movie deep down.
The complexity of the setting of the convent was portrayed simply, instead of trying to paint the nuns in an evil light. This was a way of life, to moral reform in these areas, and while the stories out of these places are more than horrific, it is the atmosphere, and not the nuns, who receive the blame come time it is to be laid at someone’s feet.
Rated PG-13 for some strong language and a sexual reference, “Philomena” is another on the must- see list for this season. The emotion, powerful acting and truly true aspect of this movie may make it a serious contender come awards time.