Philomena (2013)

I’ve been on a Steve Coogan kick of late, having recently devoured both the full 6-episode, BBC series The Trip (2010) as well as it’s followup The Trip to Italy (2014). (Distilled, 90 min versions of each were released as films in the U.S., but try to watch the full episodes.)

Philomena is a 2013 film adaptation of the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, and recounts the Philomena Lee’s 50 year search for a son she was forced to give up for adoption, having been sent to Sean Ross Abbey by her shamed father.

Coogan, who plays Martin Sixsmith, also co-wrote the adapted screenplay and co-produced the film. Ably drected by Stephen Frears, Philomena has some ‘road trip’ elements and light comedic moments, mainly by a restrained but simmering Coogan, but centers around the painful journey of Philomena in her search and self-perceived failings. Sixsmith’s 2009 Guardian piece “The Catholic church sold my child” is the Cliff’s Notes version of the story.

Under, I expect, Coogan’s influence the film gets a bit didactic with Sixsmith’s atheism chopping at the knees of Irish Catholicism, as well as its attempt to draw a parallel between Philomena’s 50 year secret and her late son, Michael Hess’ lifelong secret of being a closeted homosexual who also happened to be a WH counsel in the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. (The filmmakers treat Republicans as almost an alien species, or exotic zoo animals, complete with a terse, string-of-pearls-wearing Republican woman. If you can get past the overt anti-Republican politics of the film, particularly the bit about Republicans having wanted to cut HIV research funding, which almost ruined things for me, the film is solid and enjoyable.)

At a minimum, Philomena proves, yet again, that Judi Dench can simply do no wrong as an actress.

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