FILM REVIEW: Philomena

Philomena (Stephen Frears, 2013)

Philomena is based on the true story of Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench), who after falling pregnant was forced to live in a convent in Roscrea, Ireland. A few years after the birth of her son, she was forced to give him up for adoption. Fast forward 50 years and Philomena enlists the help of journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to track down her now adult son.

How very English
How very English

This film will make you angry. The way the young women were treated by the nuns was abhorrent, and all the worse because it is a true story. Dragging newborns out of their mothers by the legs is just the start of it, and as further developments are made my blood began to boil. To go into it would spoil the film, but I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who approves of the actions of the Catholic Church as portrayed here. It should be noted, that a final altercation between an elderly nun and Sixsmith was fabricated for the purposes of the film – the nun in question had died years earlier. However, all things considered, the convent’s actions were still unquestionably repugnant.


While some have denounced the film as being Anti-Catholic, merely because it presents true facts (bar the noted altercation) about negative actions that the Church took, I don’t think this is a valid criticism at all. While Philomena does have a horrible experience at Roscrea, we see that she continues to be a religious woman for the remainder of her life and that she has had virtuous values instilled in her such as forgiveness. One can even go as far to say that some small criticism was aimed at Martin Sixsmith’s lack of faith, and thus balance is restored. I certainly found myself taking a similar mindset to Sixsmith, which is that some people simply cannot be forgiven. I believe this film challenged that mindset, but didn’t totally convince me to change it.

Steve Coogan & Judi Dench
Steve Coogan & Judi Dench

Judi Dench was fabulous as always. Philomena was portrayed as a sweet granny-type, going out of her way to be respectful and polite to everyone she encountered, regardless of their social standing. She reminded me a bit of my Gran. We need more people like that in the world. Martin Sixsmith, in comparison, didn’t tolerate other people’s crap (which in some cases was justified). Steve Coogan injected his dry comedic touch into the role which made for a few laughs. Judi Dench was similarly hilarious at various points. These were much-needed moments in a film which has an overall sombre undertone, and stopped it from being flat-out depressing. Philomena’s recounts of her favourite romance novels, along with Sixsmith’s dry reactions, were particular highlights.

A lighter moment
A lighter moment

Philomena tells a fascinating story, about an issue which deserves notice. Many of the mothers whose children were taken from them have not received the closure that Philomena Lee was able to find. Hopefully this film, in addition to the book, has given the issue more exposure, and can provide these women with some hope that they too will find answers one day.

3.5 stars

3 thoughts on “FILM REVIEW: Philomena”

  1. {\rtf1\ansi\ansicpg1252
    {\fonttbl\f0\fnil\fcharset0 ArialMT;}

    \f0\fs28 \cf2 \expnd0\expndtw0\kerning0
    \outl0\strokewidth0 \strokec2 \shad\shadx0\shady-20\shadr0\shado115 \shadc0 I haven’t seen the film but I like your comment on the differing ways of looking at forgiveness. I think one of the biggest strengths of a person is to be able to forgive and I think (as an atheist myself) that religion instills this value so well. If someone does something really shit you will always be the bigger better person if you can forgive and move on with your life. I wish I had this ability because my long lasting pain and injustice at some things only serves to hurt me in the long run. The people to blame have no idea and probably don’t care if they did. Love your reviews for making me think about these things!

    1. Thanks 🙂 Yeah I’m not great at forgiveness either. And *spoiler alert* after finding out what terrible things they’ve done, she simply says “I forgive you” and I just thought “what?! That’s just giving them an easy way out!!” And then Martin looks at them and says “I could never forgive you” and I just wanted to yell “DAMN STRAIGHT! Me neither!” Though I think it was probably easier for her to move on being able to forgive. It’s a tough one.

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