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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Philomena | Judy Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Philomena | Judy Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark | Review

In this quietly powerful drama inspired by true events, a young teen gives birth out of wedlock in 1950’s Ireland.  Disowned by her shamed family, her only option is to seek “help” from the very judgmental cloister of nuns at Roscrea Abbey, who deliver her baby in exchange for four years of arduous service in their laundry.

Allowed to visit their children for one hour each day, these girls, some of them as young as 14, had to endure the routine, abbey-brokered adoptions of their babies to other, mostly American, families for a handsome price.  They were made to sign a contract giving up all rights to the child for the rest of their lives.

After 50 years, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) decides to find the son she named Anthony and enlists the aid of a well known but recently tainted-by-political scandal journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan).  His research takes them on a bittersweet journey whose end unearths an ironic twist.

At just 95 minutes, it’s a fairly swift moving story, more about emotion than action, and the conflict is mostly internal.  It’s the emotion that’s powerful - a mother’s love that spans decades, and a son a world away on a very personal journey of his own.

Judi Dench portrays a more eccentric character here than we are used to, chatty and unselfconsciously scattered, but determined. Dench is adept at disappearing into a role, making it uniquely hers – although her Irish accent comes and goes almost as much as Philomena does during her travels.

Steve Coogan adds a comic relief and an outraged presence at times in Martin’s atheist and hard-edged stance, helped by Philomena’s gentle influence as much as his sleuthing helps her.  The pair imparts a sympathetic chemistry that resonates from screen to viewer.

Director Stephen Frears’ (Fail Safe, Queen) story highlights the journey more than the destination, with an emphasis on the transformative power of forgiveness and acceptance on damaged lives.  Interested himself in “things that I've never encountered before,” Frears takes the audience on an exploration of injustice, cruelty, and hypocrisy, behind cloistered walls holding secrets and lies, all in the name of God.

Producer Coogan also shares a writing credit with Jeff Pope (Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman) adapting the screenplay from Martin Sixsmith’s book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. With supporting performances by Barbara Jefford, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham, Kate Fleetwood, Wunmi Misaku, and Amy McCallister, Philomena engages, enrages, and enlightens.

After more than five decades, it’s about time.

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