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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Philomena': The Profoundly Moving True Story of an Irish Woman's 50-Year Search for Her Lost Son

Movie poster for the film Philomena starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan

Philomena (2013) is a stirring human drama starring Judi Dench as Philomena Lee, an Irish retiree who has long yearned to relocate the son she relinquished to adoption 50 years earlier. Forced into the convent by her parents once her pregnancy was revealed, young Philomena was pressed into servitude to the sisters of Sean Ross Abbey—her newborn son ultimately sold to wealthy Americans without her knowledge or consent.

The storyline revolves around Philomena's unlikely partnership with British political journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who is encouraged by Philomena's daughter to write a story about her mother's ongoing plight. Together, Martin and Philomena develop a unique camaraderie, one highlighted by many droll exchanges between the world-weary journalist and the open-hearted yet naive matron. Traveling from London to Ireland and ultimately on to American, the mismatched protagonists delve into a complex mystery surrounding the fate of Philomena's son—an investigation replete with many stunning turns and revelations.

Adapted by Coogan and Jeff Pope from Sixsmith's book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee and directed by esteemed British filmmaker Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons), Philomena is a deeply resonant tale of abject historical injustice. Dench and Coogan both deliver wonderfully humanistic performances—their chemistry the basis for many moments of wry banter—while Frears perfectly balances the story's weightier elements with an air of magnanimous accord. Heartbreaking yet surprisingly transcendent in its full realization, it's an emotionally gripping tale of reconciliation and enrichment not to be missed by any means.


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