Philomena Blu-ray Review

There have been some times in history that are not easily explainable.  Having a child taken from his mother and sold to the highest bidder must be high on the list. PHILOMENA explores this practice in a film that could have been depressing in the wrong hands, but is ultimately uplifting. This is one of those inspired by true stories that rings true and gets to the essence of the subject matter.

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in Philomena

During the 1950s it was frowned upon when a teenage girl had a child out of wedlock. Of course it is still not looked at favorably today, but back then it was a dark shame that would envelope a family. Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) got pregnant as a teen in 1951 in Ireland. Her father couldn’t deal with the situation, so he sent her away to an abbey and told everyone that his daughter had died. After she had her son named Anthony, she was required to work at the abbey for four years to repay it for taking care of the child and her. During this time, the abbey had her consent to an adoption. The abbey made a fortune selling these children to mostly rich Americans.  This practice went on for years without check and not talked about.

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in Philomena

After 50 years Philomena (Judi Dench) tells her daughter June (Anna Maxwell Martin) about her son. June gets in touch with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a disgraced government official and a journalist. June wants Martin to tell her mother’s story and possibly get to the bottom of what happened to Anthony. Martin at first is wary of taking on this story. He doesn’t like doing human interest stories. He’s working on a book about Russian history. Martin eventually agrees to assist Philomena in her plight and get a juicy story for himself.

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in Philomena

Their journey first takes them to the abbey to get answers about the adoption. This turns out to be a dead end as they are told that the records were lost in a convenient fire. Washington D.C. is the next stop on their attempt at discovery over the fate of Anthony. Coogan and Dench have great chemistry in these road trip scenes. It is amazing that they haven’t worked together previously. There is an ease with their interactions.

Martin is shown to be an atheist and has lively conversations with Philomena of the fallacy of the belief in God. In real life Martin is not really an atheist, but it does heighten the tension in these scenes. Coogan co wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope and they did a remarkable job of telling this story in a fascinating way. They don’t look down on the practice of religion. I believe they show a balanced approach to this touchy subject. The screenwriters have a tricky job of mixing tragedy with humor.

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in Philomena

The story is indeed a sad one. Philomena didn’t get a chance to see her son grow up to be the man he became and he didn’t get to know his birth mother. This is a journey that honestly had a few surprises that I did not see coming. The world view of Philomena and Martin are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Martin is a cynic and he speaks his mind. When there is injustice like what the nuns did to Philomena, he’s not one to keep his mouth shut. Philomena on the other hand is more forgiving and just wanted to find out about her son. You can really see both sides and be totally on board with either side at various points of the story. One of my favorite scenes is near the end when these two confront the nun that is still there at the abbey after all this time. Martin is full of fire and fury, while Philomena shows compassion and grace.

PHILOMENA is a nicely told tale about redemption and hope. Dench and Coogan both deliver top notch performances in very different roles.


Video: The scenes filmed in Northern Ireland are quite nice. The greens and blues of the countryside stand out.

Audio: I had no issues with the sound with these tricky accents.

Feature Commentary with Steve Coogan and Screenwriter Jeff Pope: The two men discuss the screenplay in depth. They also go over the CGI that is expertly used. Coogan talks about his acting choices. The commentary is like a fun conversation with old friends.

A Conversation with Judi Dench (8:54): Dench discusses how she got into acting. She also delves into her love of theater, how she got into movies and her role as M in the Bond films. Dench also talks about the career advice she was given.

The Real Philomena Lee (2:47): The actors talk about the importance of honoring Philomena and her plight. Philomena herself chats about the film and her life.

Q & A with Steve Coogan (24:17): This was held in Los Angeles. Coogan is asked about how this story came about and the genesis of the film. He discusses some of the liberties they took. Coogan gives interesting examples of how there were kernels of truth even in things that were dramatized for the film.


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