This small movie, based on a true story, packs a big punch. When Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) was a teen in Ireland, she had a child out of wedlock. Upon discovering her pregnancy, her father sent her to a convent for the duration of the pregnancy. The child was subsequently adopted by an American couple in a closed adoption.
Fifty years later, Philomena still wonders about her son. She enlists the help of a journalist to help her find out whatever she can about him.
This complex film initially sets the worldly, atheist reporter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) against the earnest, devout Catholic Philomena. Coogan plays sophisticated Martin as bitter about losing his job and initially dismissive of Philomena. Dench gives a fantastic and empathetic performance as Philomena. She is somewhat naïve and innocent, though her years as a nurse have made her very comfortable talking about things related to the body. But she remains wracked with guilt over her actions as a young girl.
The convent that took her in was a cold and calculating place; one nun in particular was very harsh. Martin wants Philomena to join him in raging against the church and God, but although she has suffered for so many years, she is not interested in blame. She just wants to know her son and to find out if he ever wondered about her.
The relationship between the two characters is interesting, and Philomena’s desire to know her son is heartrending. Just as compelling, though, are the moments when Martin and Philomena find themselves at spiritual cross purposes. Philomena’s discoveries push her to do some honest soul searching, and it’s not easy to hear Martin question God or his existence. But as he urges her toward anger and revenge, she—much more powerfully—points him toward grace and forgiveness, even as she struggles to claim that forgiveness for herself. (Weinstein)