Day 111: Philomena

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Best Picture nominated movie night moved back to Monday this week, due to the holiday yesterday and being out of town. I visited the DVD store with the intention of picking up The Wolf of Wall Street. Then I saw that Philomena had released last week and there it was on the shelf. I shifted…and walked out of the store with Philomena.

This was a movie I wanted to see at the theater. Unfortunately, it didn’t play long at the Joplin theater and I missed it. The previews I had seen drew me, while at the same time, caused me concern as I always felt a deep sadness when I saw Judi Dench’s character, Philomena. However, this year I am not shying away from sad movies. I am discovering these stories have much to offer and that sadness is allowed and tears are not a sign of weakness.

Philomena stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan and was directed by Stephen Frears. It was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screen Play, Best Original Score, Best Actress for Judi Dench and Best Picture. It did not win an Oscar in any category. The movie is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 1 hour and 38 minutes.

I love that four of the films I’ve watched so far are based on true stories, including this one. Truth can be so much more incredible and interesting than fiction! Give me a story based on real life experiences and touch my heart, making me care, making me laugh and weep, and that story will stay with me for a very long time. Philomena is such a story.

In Ireland, in 1952, Philomena Lee gave birth to a baby boy out of wedlock. Sent in disgrace to an abbey in Roscrea, Philomena is forced into menial labor for years, in exchange for a place to live for her and her son, Anthony. At the age of three, however, Anthony is placed into adoption, without his mother’s consent. For the next 47 years, Philomena thinks of her son daily, missing him, mourning his loss. And she’s searched for him, returning again and again to the abbey seeking information. She carries the secret of his existence until she can’t contain it any longer, revealing at last to her grown daughter that she had a son while still in her teens. Her daughter connects her with journalist Martin Sixsmith, formerly with the BBC, who is out of work and looking for a story.

The two embark on a journey to find Philomena’s lost son. Their search takes them from the abbey in Ireland, where no help is offered, to Washington DC in the US. Martin’s investigation uncovers a dark scheme. The abbey sold babies and children to wealthy Americans seeking to adopt. Anthony was adopted by a doctor and his wife, from St. Louis, MO, and his name changed to Michael. Philomena does locate her son. Not in the way she had hoped to, but find him she does, and the shadowy pieces of his life become clear. Martin and Philomena come full circle, back to the abbey in Roscrea, where Martin’s anger at the lies and the mistreatment of young, vulnerable women is sharply contrasted by Philomena’s grace and forgiveness.

This was an emotional movie. Yes, it made tears fill my eyes. Judi Dench did a remarkable job portraying this wise and yet charmingly naïve woman who loved her son so much, she couldn’t forget him. Her blunt comments, kindness toward others and love of romance novels made me laugh, just when the tears threatened to spill. And Steve Coogan, who I discovered also wrote the screenplay, was amazing, portraying Martin Sixsmith as a man searching for something beyond himself to believe in.

As a mother, my heart hurt for Philomena’s pain and loss and her desperation to find her son. She didn’t want to take him back. She only wanted to know that he was okay, that he had lived well, and that he knew she loved him. As parents, we all hope the same is true for our children.

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