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by Louise Adams
Tuesday Apr 8, 2014

Stephen Frears' "Philomena" is inspired by the true tale of former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith, who wrote the 2009 source book (played with humor and pathos by co-screenwriter Steve Coogan), about his quest to find the "lost child" of Irish Catholic retired nurse Philomena Lee (the force of nature that is Dame Judi Dench).

In 1952 Phil had an affair with a man at a fair, got pregnant, and was disowned by her father and dumped at the Sean Ross Abbey convent in Roscrea, County Tipperary. She toiled as their unpaid laundress, but was allowed to see her son Anthony an hour a day, along with the other "shamed" young and unwed mothers.

"The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

As hard as it is to believe that the Catholic Church would put children in distress, Sister Hildegard (Barbara Jefford) sold them for £1,000 to American families, including one to pin-up Jane Russell. Somewhat simple-minded and far-too-forgiving Phil and jaded Sixsmith, whose "anger must be exhausting," travel to the DC area and back to learn the son, renamed Michael A. Hess, had become a high-ranking gay Republican. At the end of their quest, Sixsmith quotes T.S. Eliot: "The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

Blu-ray bonuses include commentary with Coogan and co-writer Jeff Pope, a Coogan Q&A, "The Real Philomena Lee," and "A Conversation with Judi Dench," who gives a brief recap of her career and acting style. Seeing Michael Redgrave as King Lear at Stratford ignited her love of the theatre, and she performed Ophelia at the Vic after graduating drama school. A director told her "your face doesn't really add up for film," but she broke into the genre with "Mrs. Brown," and is probably best know as "M" in seven Bond films. She considers live TV the most difficult, but the stage is her home: "My film career is catching people to come to the theatre." Slàinte, Dame Judi.


Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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