At the heart of Stephen Frears' "Philomena", despite all the references to a human interest story, it was really about forgiveness, redemption, and more importantly, a closure that perhaps each one of us are hoping to find at the end, rather than searching for revenge. Inspired by a true event, Philomena started as a road trip story between with the odd couple between an elderly Irish lady, Philomena Lee and a cynical ex-govt. spin doctor, Martin Sixsmith. The journey they took together in search for the missing son of Philomena, however, has a lasting impact on both of them.
The story began with Sixsmith's (Steve Coogan) sacking from his job as a govt. spin doctor and ever wonder about what would be his next move (apart from writing "boring" Russian history book), it was also the time when he came across with Philomena's daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin) who just discovered that her mother had a secret for 50 yrs. In spite of his own prejudice over "human interest story" in which he branded for weak minded people, he nonetheless accept this work as a journalist from his editor. After meeting with Philomena, Sixsmith began his journey with her, first to visit the convent in which Philomena spent 4 years during her teenage years for having a pre-martial pregnancy. Her son, Anthony Lee, was taken away from her at a very young age. While Sixsmith was very much willing to help Philomena to find his son whereabout, his ignorance of this seemingly naive old lady(who is a lifetime reader's digest and romantic novel follower, as Sixsmith describe to his wife on the phone) soon changed as he has began just how she was, in fact, an open-minded, intelligent and in many occasions, a very brave and compassionate woman. Judi Dench has given yet another compelling performance as Philomena in which she brought out the character's nativity to her underlying strong character amazingly at ease, as witnessed in the breakfast scene between chatting with the chef in one minute while receiving the bad news of her son the next. She also gave her character the internal struggle between obeying the catholic faith, if not blindly during her young days, and somewhat a very liberal mind as evidence by her acceptance of her son's sexuality to her own desire towards love and sex itself. However, it was the great display of compassion that Philomena did toward herself against her own demon of guilt and against the convent as well as the Sisters themselves; has been so brilliantly carried out by Dame Dench. Coogan's role as Sixsmith has been exceptionally as a cynical intellectual, who is unusually reserved on his satire comedy and replace it with a more serious, if not more subtle performance.
Coogan's effort of on this balanced script (with Jeff Pope, based on the book by Sixsmith himself) was certainly not to be overlooked as the story could easily turn into a clichéd melodrama or biased attack to the catholic church (although I believe Frears has made his point on the church's responsibility in selling children very clear). Instead, it was almost as if a soul searching journey for both protagonists with countless funny moments (through the well structured and often witty dialogues) as well as moments of heartbreak and reconciliation at the story finale. Indeed, towards the final 10-15min. of the film, audience had joined the characters for a "full circle" journey in with the same fulfilling and courage of facing the truth, which is indeed a very satisfying experience.
Interesting to know that the film has finally got a much deserved impact for the real life Philomena and others: