13 November 2013 | davidgee
Those heartless Magdalens
You've read the story. You may even have read the book. A few years ago former ITN reporter Martin Sixsmith took an Irish widow on a quest to find the illegitimate son she was forcibly parted from 50 years earlier. The Magdalen Sisters at the convent where she had the baby (and where he was sold on for adoption in the US) are coldly unhelpful, but Sixsmith uses his journalistic contacts to follow up the adoption. As Philomena is quick to admit, Anthony did far better in the US than he would have done in Ireland, but she longs to know that he has missed her as much as she, for all his life, has missed him. You somehow know that this story is not going to have a happy ending.
Judi Dench gives a lovely low-key performance as the painfully unsophisticated, doggedly determined Irishwoman. Steve Coogan totally casts off his comic 'baggage' to play Sixsmith, the initially reluctant Sancho Panza on this seemingly hopeless quest. As in THE QUEEN and THE KING'S SPEECH, director Stephen Frears gets the mood exactly right with a careful attention to period details and the nuances of this slight but gut-wrenching story.
Philomena's story is a circular one, which ends back at the convent where Anthony was born and then torn away from her. One of the nuns from 50 years ago is still alive and totally unrepentant at the callousness with which these sinful young mothers were treated (dozens of them, perhaps hundreds). Martin Sixsmith's rage in this scene comes across powerfully in the script Steve Coogan co-wrote.
I don't personally believe in an afterlife but I found myself thinking that perhaps women like these heartless Fundamentalist nuns are the virgin houris with which fanatics from another faith are rewarded (in Hell, obviously: it cannot possibly be Heaven) for flying planes into skyscrapers and blowing themselves up in marketplaces. They somehow deserve each other.