Philomena (2013)

philomena poster 2013 movie review
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Interesting story with an interesting character

Liberties in the script surrounding real events

Movie Info

Movie Name:   Philomena

Studio:   Pathe

Genre(s):   Drama

Release Date(s):   August 31, 2013 (Venice Film Festival)/November 1, 2013 (UK)

MPAA Rating:   PG-13

philomena martin sixsmith judi dench steve coogan

You know that lady you hope you don’t get stuck next to on an international flight…

Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) needs a new direction. He’s been fired from his old job and wants to get back to serious journalism. When a “human interest” story presents itself to him in the form of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), Martin realizes it could expose a deeper story that could get him back into the mainstream. Philomena had her son Michael taken away from her when she was in a convent for wayward girls and hopes that Martin could be her last good hope at finding him. Martin and Philomena are an unlikely pair, but unlikely pairs might just be what is needed.

Directed by Stephen Frears, Philomena is a comedy drama. The movie is based on the 2009 non-fiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee and was written and produced by Steve Coogan (with aid from others). The film was well received by critics and nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actress (Judi Dench), Best Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

I wanted to see Philomena when it was in the theaters, but never got around to it. I eventually picked up a cheap Blu-Ray of the movie, but one again, never got around to watching it. Finally seeing Philomena, I was happy I did. While it isn’t extremely complex or groundbreaking, it is a nice solid film about a subject that remains controversial and worth exploring.

philomena magdelene laundries children taken sophie kennedy clark

A fate worse than a prisoner?

The movie focuses on the removal of children from wayward mothers by the church and the selling of those children to celebrities. The movie is based on reality but does take liberties with the story (as many films do). Despite this, the core of the film is the relationship between the completely honest Philomena and the standoffish Sixsmith who never really comes off as very likable…despite this, moments like Sixsmith learning the truth about Michael’s fate breaks through his persona. He is impulsive and says things before he thinks…but he is generally a good person.

I’m not a huge fan of Steve Coogan, but he works well in this role. He’s curt and he manages to pull off this rudeness without being totally unlikable. Fortunately, he’s the flipside of Judi Dench’s Philomena who is overly likable and the type of person who would be a nightmare to be next to on a flight. The yin and yang of their relationship drives the plot and helps give the story more dimension.

philomena confessional judi dench

Still a prisoner?

The movie is rather simple, but it has nice moments and good uses of location. Philomena gets to be taken to the “big city” of DC and see America while searching for her son. Moments at places like the Lincoln Memorial help show her character and her personality.

My first introduction to the Magdalene laundries was the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters and the 1998 documentary Sex in a Cold Climate. The practice of essentially imprisoning girl who had made a mistake, been taken advantage of, or even worse raped and blamed for it was a cruel and unspoken story for a long time (and it continued for far too long). Philomena gives the story a personal and real face. It is also interesting to find that Philomena’s child had such an interesting life and played an important role in the United States.  Parts of the story were embellished for the movie, but for the most part, it is faithful…and as the postscript to the film indicates so many more children “lost” their parents this way and may never know it.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response