Philomena (2013)


Based on a true story, Philomena endured the forced removal of her son by a punitive Catholic convent for the ‘sin’ of being an unwed teenage mother. He was taken from Ireland by adoptive American parents as part of an international trade in out-of-wedlock children, and the Church ensured that mothers like Philomena would never know of their children’s fate, ostensibly as part of God’s punishment.

Philomena spends 50 years yearning, looking, and asking about his whereabouts, and by chance meets an out-of-work journalist who is looking for a human interest story to revive his career. They travel to America and learn that the son had become very successful but died of AIDS only a few years earlier. Philomena’s greatest pain is no longer the 50 years of separation, nor even his passing away, but the burning desire to know if he ever talked of Ireland.

The emotional apex of the film occurs as Philomena learns that her son not only identified himself as Irish, but he had returned to the Catholic convent, to die there and be buried in its graveyard. Portrayed beautifully by Judi Dench, this climactic scene shows immense pain giving way to an inner peace and the knowledge that her son had returned home. Beyond the moving story about the unbounded nature of a mother’s love, the film is about the cruelty and lack of compassion by religious institutions that have spent most of the modern era embroiled in child abuse scandals around the world.

3 half stars

Director: Stephen Frears

Stars: Judi Dench, Steve Googan