Sunday, January 19, 2014

About A Boy, About A Mother: Review of Philomena

While Ride Along dominated the box office this past weekend, other people took the chance to sample the movies that are up for Oscars but haven't had the chance to see. It should be a good weekend for Frozen, American Hustle, Her, Gravity (in some markets) and 12 Years A Slave.

Since I've seen them, I decided to try Philomena, who's up for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress at the Oscars. It's about Philomena Lee, an elderly woman who gave birth to a child after pre-marital sex in 1952, and was forced to work as an indentured laundress at an Irish convent. If you have seen The Magedelene Sisters, you may know what that is like. One day, her young boy is taken away and adopted by an American family. They could do that, because she signed away her rights to the child.

She's never spoken about this until 50 years later, with only a small picture to remind her. She meets Martin Sixsmith, a former TV journalism who's out of a job after a minor political scandal. He hears Philomena's story, and isn't interested at first. Once he does some digging, and realizes he could get some attention for being part of her search for her son, he does help out.

The movie centers on the relationship between Philomena and Martin. Dench portrays her as a woman who
may seem naive, but is aware of some things. She is also reluctant to condemn the church for what has happened, but she has her doubts about whether she wants to know what happened to her son. Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope, walks a thin line her. His portrayal of Sixsmith did remind me a bit of his Alan Partridge character, but he also shows that if there is a fact that should be revealed, he'll make sure he does. He also admits to being an athiest, questioning why God would let Philomena suffer as she did.
Sharp-eyed fans of Game of Thrones may recognize Michelle Fairly as Martin's editor.

There were some people who accused this movie of being anti-Catholic, but they are wrong. As Philomena said, there were some nice nuns at the convent, as well as others who weren't. The attitude towards the Catholics is quite balanced

In case people didn't read the book, I won't reveal what the search uncovered. It does create a trail that ends in an interesting place. Meanwhile, Philomena is thinking about how her child may have grown up in America, and what happened to him.

It may seem small compared to American Hustle, 12 Years A Slave or Gravity, but Philomena is an interesting film about searching for answers and forgiveness.

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