Visiting my Mom in Houston this past weekend. Usually that involves taking her out to see a movie, which she loves to do, after a Chinese lunch. True to form, we had a Leonard family Chinese lunch with all the Houston relatives, and then across the street to the movie theater to see “Philomena,” just the sort of film my Mom would enjoy. And me, too!
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan are fantastically good in this dramatization of Martin Sixsmith’s book about an Irish woman’s search for the “illegitimate” son she was forced to give up for adoption half a century before. This is a movie that really packs an emotional punch, and gives strong feelings for the times and places it depicts. An Irish teenage girl has a one-night stand with a handsome slick-talking stranger at the county fair in 1952, become pregnant, is packed off to a “home” operated by nuns as her family can’t bear the humiliation of their pregnant daughter, gives birth there to a boy who is, in effect, sold at age 3 by the nuns to an American couple who had come to adopt a girl but were entranced by the little boy who clung to the girl. The nuns will not, of course, tell Philomena who adopted her son or where he was taken, having required her to sign an agreement when she first arrived to give up all rights to the child. Eventually she earns her way out of the workhouse for wayward girls, gets training as a nurse, marries, has children, but carries the secret of her son in her heart. Occasional attempts to get the nuns to tell her something about what happened to her son are unsuccessful. Finally, fifty years later, she spills the beans to her daughter, who encourages her to hook up with a journalist who might want to do a feature story about this, which could involve helping her to find her son. Sixsmith, “between jobs” after being sacked from a political position, is enlisted and becomes absorbed in the task, but for me to say any more would be a plot spoiler for those who haven’t seen the film. The entire thing is very well done, Judi Dench as always is great as the Irish mother, Steve Coogan is great as the journalist.
The story gave me enough of an emotional jolt to get me to order a copy of the book, which I look forward eagerly to reading.