Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Mother and child reunion ....

PHILOMENA certainly ticks all the boxes, and director Stephen Frears does it again, after THE GRIFTERS, PRICK UP YOUR EARS, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, THE QUEEN etc. Judi Dench too tops her career so far, it may be her last leading role, but hopefully there will be more. Here we forget we are watching a famous actress, as she totally becomes that Irish woman looking for her son, taken away from her 50 years earlier.

Former journalist Martin Sixsmith is at a loss as to what do next. That changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena, who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of an Irish Catholic convent. Martin does not want to do a 'human interest' story but arranges a magazine assignment about her search for him that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son's fate. Furthermore, both find their basic beliefs challenged. 
SPOILERS ahead ...
I grew up in Catholic Ireland in the '50s/early '60s so am well aware of those convents where "fallen women" toiled, but this story, based on the true events regarding Philomena Lee's search for her lost son, as documented by journalist Martin Sixsmith, covers new territory. It is a road movie too, (as engaging as CLOUDBURST, review below, gay interest label) as Philomena and the journalist go searching first to Ireland and then to America and we follow their up and down relationship, with funny moments as the homely Irish woman first annoys the priggish and rude journalist - whom Steve Coogan captures perfectly, in his best screen work (we loved his Paul and Pauline Calf and concert tour dvds, as well as Alan Partridge of course); he is co-scriptwriter with Jeff Pope. It has manipulative and maudlin moments to be sure, as Philiomena adjusts to American life, and it seems surprisingly easy for the journalist to discover her son and the life he led. This leads to home videos of his childhood and his surprising career and how the story ends - back where it began at the convent in Ireland, as it turns out he had been looking for his mother while she was looking for him. The nuns and the church are cast as the villains here, particularly that nun, Sister Hildegarde, who kept them apart, even after the son had died and was buried at the convent.
Both Philomenas
We see how unwed teenage girls who became pregnant and then worked at this nunnery under terrible work conditions. The sisters would then force these girls to give up their newborns and sign away their rights while their children were adopted by well-to-do families who paid the Church for them. We wonder why there is a photo of Jane Russell on the convent wall - she also came and bought an Irish baby. The girls were not even provided with proper medication during their labour, as their "pain was penance for their sin".

Philomena still has her faith and is able to forgive, which the journalist, and perhaps us the audience, cannot. Why though would Michael, the son, want to be buried at such a place, when he had built a whole different life with a partner in America?  The nuns weren't going to tell her he was there ...

As my friend Leon put it: 
Incredibly the real Philomena is still alive and remains so brainwashed by Rome that she actually publicly forgave the nun mostly responsible for ruining her life, a nun, moreover, who shows not a scintilla of remorse.

Dench, like her friend Maggie Smith (what a pair of Dames), has been terrific over the years, from that early FOUR IN THE MORNING (Dench label), and BBC plays like LANGRISHE GO DOWN, ABSOLUTE HELL, LAST OF THE BLOND BOMBSHELLS, and on stage in that comedy LONDON ASSURANCE in the 70s, and her marvellous Desiree in the National's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC over a decade ago (which I saw in preview, with Sondheim sitting a seat away furiously writing notes). Then there was her stunning few moments as Elizabeth I in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, and of course her 'M' in the Bond films, particularly SKYFALL. Even is something disposable like LADIES IN LAVENDER she totally commands the screen, doing it all with her eyes and expressions. But to PHILOMENA .... it seemed ordained at the time that Cate Blanchett (her co-star in NOTES ON A SCANDAL, one of her best later roles, like IRIS), would get the academy award for her head-turning turn in BLUE JASMINE, but I think now it should have been Dame Judi who took the award. The only Dench film I absolutely hated was that MARIGOLD HOTEL, as discussed at gay interest label!

Soon: Coogan again as Soho pornographer Paul Raymond in THE LOOK OF LOVE (2013) and we get his new travels in Italy programmes on tv this week,with Rob Brydon. 

No comments:

Post a Comment