Unmarried Philomena is forced into a religious institution when her pregnancy is discovered. Made to work in the laundry, she is only allowed to spend an hour a day with the son she named Anthony. When the child is three years old, he is forcibly taken from her. She has no idea where he has gone; the last she sees of him is his face in the back window of a departing car. Philomena Lee never hears from him again. All she has is a single photograph of her boy.
Years later an out-of-work BBC journalist, Martin Sixsmith, agrees to take up her story, help her find her son. His intention is to publish the story as a ‘human-interest’ feature. The ensuing search for Antony takes Philomena and Martin to the USA, to the White House, and back to Ireland.
It’s a heart-breaking film, but not a sad one. The dialogue between Martin (Steve Coogan) and Philomena (Judi Dench) is funny. She comes from a small Irish town and he has seen the sights of the world. She is unworldly but wise; he is experienced but pig-headed. Together they give and take. Their relationship develops into a poignant one, as Martin begins to care not just about his newspaper feature, but about the real journey.
The most devastating thing about this film is that the story is true. It is a deeply affecting portrayal of an injustice which was committed against many Philomenas. I hope the film helps to raise the profile of their dilemma, so they can sleep more peacefully at night, knowing what happened to their children. You can find out more about the ongoing work and sign a petition to make it easier for mothers and children to find one another, via the Philomena Project.
(Philomena Lee and her daughter, Jane Libberton)