Twitter Plot Summary: After being forced to give up her baby some 50 years previously, Philomena goes searching for him with journalist Martin Sixsmith.
Five Point Summary:
1. Tragic history.
2. Road trip.
4. More questions, more answers.
5. Full circle.
There are many complaints one could level at organised religion, of which I will not go into much detail here for fear of inciting a mass exodus of readers, but suffice to say I’m not a fan of it in any capacity. Now, that’s not to say I’m not freethinking and tolerant enough to let everyone else in the world believe what they like, I just don’t feel any need to conform to religious opinion. You might be asking what my point is here – fair question. For those not already aware, Philomena tells the story of a now elderly woman who decides to find out what became of her son on what would have been his 50th birthday, the existence of whom she has kept secret for decades.
The Catholic church are painted in an extremely unpleasant light, and perhaps with good reason. Whilst it wouldn’t be fair to tar all Catholics with the same brush as I’m sure there are some morally decent ones out there, the treatment bestowed upon the pregnant teenage girls in Philomena’s youth is horrific and entirely unfair. Playing devil’s advocate, the prevailing thoughts of the era itself are the reasons behind this, so whilst it’s an entirely unpleasant set of circumstances, the nuns we see in the modern day are seemingly much more tolerant and understanding. With that said, their efforts to hide their past do not do them any favours.
Dench is perfect as Philomena, perfectly encapsulating the existence of a dotty older woman with a penchant for romance novels. This fleshes her out a touch more than the easy option of focusing solely on her history and desire to find out about her son. In that respect, kudos must also be passed on to Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith, the weary journalist and former government spin doctor who decides to write a story on her life. Coogan is able to move away from his Alan Partridge mannerisms long enough to make Sixsmith stand out on his own – probably for the best given that he’s a real person outside of the film. The script plays out as a standard road movie as Philomena and Martin travel to the United States in their quest to locate her son, which itself is handled in a very sensitive manner. There’s nice interplay between the travelling pair, in particular as Martin slowly transitions from being mildly annoyed by Philomena to an almost reverential level of respect as he digs deeper into the facts to hand.
Rather unusually, and to the script’s credit, is that it doesn’t hold everything back to the final act to reveal what became of Philomena’s son and where his life ultimately led. It allows plenty of time in the second half of the film to close in on his trail, unveil more details of his life and, in one respect, allow the story to come full circle. The script also achieves one further important point to note, in that it shows two conflicting opinions on the whole affair. Philomena is very forgiving despite all the heartache and pain they have caused her over the years. Then there is Martin who, as a lapsed Catholic, is outraged at how the church treated both Philomena and all of the pregnant girls that came into their care. Whatever your opinion may be, it’s an incredibly clever and touching way to indicate that even when it seems there should be a clear black and white outlook on a certain event or occurrence, there are always at least two differing opinions, for better or for worse.