Review: ‘Philomena’ (M) **** and a half

PhilomenaNO single word adequately encapsulates the effect of Stephen Frears’ filming of Martin Sixsmith’s book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” describing Philomena’s search for the small son whom the nuns at Roscrea Abbey had sold to American foster parents 50 years earlier.

But “knocking you for six” comes close.

The Abbey ran a Magdalene Laundry which incarcerated young women considered guilty of licentiousness, unwed motherhood or prostitution and forced them into menial labour verging on slavery. Philomena was sent at age 15 to give birth in the Abbey. In her sixties, she retains a sweet unworldly innocence unaffected by any sophistication coming from friendship with Martin, a dismissed media adviser to a minister in the Blair government. In a search traversing determination, friendship, friction, humour, tension and conflict, Judi Dench as adult Philomena and Steve Coogan as Martin are a delight to watch. Sophie Kennedy Clark is compelling as teenaged Philomena.

Times change. In 2002, ageing has not diminished Sister Hildegard’s commitment to her vows. Barbara Jefford as Hildegard delivers a searing justification of the religious life with a zeal reflecting bitterness fed by the vocational devotion that has barred her from womanly experiences. Devotion defeats self interest and compassion for others.

That portrayal of Hildegard, who actually died in 1995, has reportedly upset modern Irish nuns But fury and grief about what happened to the Magdalene victims is undoubtedly justified. The Irish Government has apologised for its role in the Magdalene Laundries and the appalling privations they imposed on women and children (they ceased operating in 1996). The film may indeed have taken creative licence in presenting its underlying anger. Oscar talk is being talked.

At Palace Electric, Capitol 6, Dendy and Limelight from Boxing Day

 

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