Though famous on the English stage, TV and in English movies it wasn't until Judi Dench played M in the James Bond movies and received a supporting actress Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth that America fell in love with her and hasn't stopped loving her, with her role in "Philomenia" only solidifying that love.
We first meet the young Philomenia (Sophie Kennedy Clark) losing her virginity, never regretting it, only to become pregnant. Irish girls who bore children out of wedlock, embarrassing their parents, were generally sent away to Catholic church institutes where the nuns kept them in servitude until they paid off the 1,000 pounds until they paid off their 'debt'. The last time she sees her son Anthony is when, at the age of 3, he is being put in a car after being sold to an American couple.
Fifty-three years later we met the grown up Philomena (Judy Dench) who has been a nurse for thrity years, married, had a daughter and grandchildren but never forgot her Anthony nor did she ever lose her faith in the church. Writer Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who is a lapsed Catholic to the point of now being an atheist, has recently lost his job. He is a man who likes to write about Russian history couldn't care about writing a 'human interest' story which he sneers at so you know he will be writing Philomena's story and will help her find her child.
There are many possible spoilers so to avoid them, and let you enjoy the twists and turns, let's just say Philomena and Martin are complete opposites and travel together to America to find her son. Along the way subjects far and wide are touched upon from the church, to politics, to homophobia, AIDS, the British class system, unforgiving nuns, romantic fiction novels, sex, Jane Russell and even Philomena wanting to watch "Big Mama's House" instead of going to see the Lincoln Memorial.
Written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, based on the true story written by Martin Sixsmith in the book "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee", they, along with director Stephen Frears, avoids manpulating the audiende too much. They provide some good laughs while not staying away from the heavier topics.
Steve Coogan holds his own against Judi Dench but you eyes don't leave her when she is on screen. She inhabits Philomena to the point that we understand this woman's love, faith, loss, pain and, most of all, her wisdom, with her facial expressions. Sophie Kennedy Clark gets across Philomena's anguish, especially in the scene where she sees her son taken away while Mare Winningham as a grown up woman who was adopted with Anthony and Anna Maxwell, Ruth McCabe along with Peter Hermann and Michelle Fairley all offer good support in what are almost cameo appearances. Barbara Jefford as Sister Hildagarde stands out.
There are beautiful scenes of Ireland, and Washington D. C., but this movie belongs to Judi Dench deservedly!