Two things I wanted to do after seeing Philomena: I wanted to drink a Guinness. And I wanted to punch a nun.
Philomena (Judi Dench) is an elderly lady in the UK who has always wondered about the child she bore out of wedlock in the early 1950’s. Her memories include a fling with a boy, a pregnancy lived out in secrecy in a convent and hard labor to repay the convent for its services. The film’s true story is set in the early 2000’s, when the son would be about 50 years old.
Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is an out-of-work British journalist who offers to help Philomena locate her son, in exchange for her allowing him to tell her story. He’s a jaded media type while Philomena is a generally upbeat woman, despite the lifelong pain she has suffered due to losing her son. They make an interesting duo.
Their search takes them to the convent in Ireland where only minimal information is forthcoming. Philomena flashes back to the one hour each day she was given to bond with her son. She then recalls the anguish of seeing a wealthy family take her son away for adoption when he was 3.
Eventually their quest takes them to the United States where answers are found and Philomena gets some closure. There are no spoilers in this review, but Martin’s affinity for Guinness provides a clue to the puzzle’s ultimate solution. And the nuns in the convent are presented as particularly unlikeable. (If you’ve ever encountered an unpleasant nun, maybe in school, wait til you see these women!)
The story is entertaining and offers a few surprising turns and emotional moments. Coogan, in addition to providing a strong counterpoint to Dench, co-wrote the script.
Judi Dench is excellent as usual. She is lively, energetic and occasionally funny. Her onscreen charm makes Philomena a movie for grownup audiences to enjoy and savor.
(Note: Philomena was initially rated R because it has two occurrences of the f-word. After an appeal to the MPAA, it has now been rated PG-13.)