“I hope you brought tissues with you”. If the box-office clerk tells you this, you know you are about to watch some The Notebook-style level of sadness movie. But apparently I am an emotional masochist, so who cares.
In what is possibly not only one of Judi Dench’s best performances, but also one of Steve Coogan’s finest, Philomena tells the real story of, well, Philomena Lee, a woman whose son was taken away from her many decades ago.
The real Philomena got in contact with British journalist Martin Sixsmith, who helped her track her son down, all while writing an article about the story, that went on to become a book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, published in 2009.
Out of this novel comes the screenplay that Coogan himself wrote with Jeff Pope. And to this mix, you add Stephen Frears, who seems to be specialized in movies with powerful leading ladies that prevent the film from becoming a B-movie because of his second-hand directing style. Long sentence, but the truth, nonetheless.
This is a road trip story, you could say. And a powerful one, with an unexpected, yet delightful chemistry between Dench and Coogan, both in comic and dramatic scenes. Sort of a mother-son relationship, where the mother keeps saying things that the son finds ridiculous, out of place or simply incoherent. And Coogan’s answers to anything Dench says are unique, especially if her character is saying that she’s worried her son might have “died in Vietnam, or be a drug addict… Or obese”.
The journey from the convent where it all began to the very end feels short, with a script that has the power of making us laugh and, two minutes later, move us to tears and suddenly start sobbing. Which is what you can expect of the sad tale of a very positive and kind woman, who is even willing to forgive the nuns that made her go through so much pain. Because Catholic nuns are painted on this film as THE MOST EVIL VILLAINS EVER, at the level of Hitler, Emperor Palpatine and Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear –the worst of them all.
One thing you can learn from this film is that Philomena’s way of seeing the world is inspiring, and all the women who went through that same hell deserve to know what happened to their children. It may be late, but knowing the truth always brings a sense of closure, and that is what they need. What everybody needs, in one way or another.
Obviously, a highly recommended reading is Sixsmith’s book about the heartbreaking story of Philomena and the son she never got to take care of.
Things forgotten at the laundry
The choice of actress to play the younger version of Judi Dench was excellent. I actually thought they might be related –they are not.
New drinking game to play with British films: have a shot every time an actor from Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey appears.
As a Spanish Catholic-raised girl who attended a convent school for fifteen years, I must say I always held nuns in high esteem and never found them scary. Until now. Or it might have something to do with the weather, right?
“Anything that feels so lovely must be wrong”: Guess what she was talking about.
The film score had remembrances of Lost. Although I seem to say that about lots of scores lately, so never mind.