Philomena: A Film Review
Before I delve into the wonderful gem of a film that is Philomena, let me offer a quick apology for the lengthy hiatus. Work and life have been keeping me very occupied these last few weeks, and I just haven’t had the time to write as much as I would like. Now that I’m falling back into a routine, hopefully I’ll be able to write much more regularly.
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Let me be blunt, right from the start: Philomena is one of the most captivating films I’ve seen in a very long time. The film touched my heart and left me in awe of the power of storytelling to leave such a profound impact. The acting is fantasic, the storyline is well-paced and the plot is irresistibly alluring. I found myself watching this film, and hoping desperately for a happy ending even as the tone of the film revealed itself for the bittersweet, realistic portrayal of heartbreak and healing.
Philomena centers around two characters: Philomena Lee, an elderly woman with a gentle yet spirited character; and Martin Sixsmith, a cynical, witty journalist whose career has taken a turn for the worse. Together, Philomena and Martin embark on a quest to locate Philomena’s long-lost son, a boy she gave birth to in a convent as a teenager, who was later given up for adoption against her will. Through flashbacks, we learn of Philomena’s traumatic experiences at the convent and the injustices she endured as a young woman desperate to be with her son, yet parted from him unexpectedly. Martin, upon hearing what happened to her, agrees to accompany her on her search and write a human interest story about their journey.
One of the best qualities of this film is the masterful way it balances light, witty humor with heavy, serious content. The weight of the film lies almost exclusively on the relationship between Philomena and Martin, who form an unlikely friendship despite having personalities that couldn’t possibly be more different. There are moments of dialogue that left me breathless with laughter, followed by seamless shifts in tone when the film turns to its more sobering content.
Both Philomena and Martin process what she went through in different ways: Martin expresses his frustration and distaste for organized religion and the way the convent nuns mistreated Philomena. He defends Philomena in a way she refuses to do for herself, and angrily confronts the nuns responsible for giving her son away. He is blunt in his disapproval of Christianity, yet he never disrespects Philomena for her faith.
Philomena herself reacts very differently to everything that happened to her. She bears no ill will for the convent sisters, and even defends them in some cases. Yet her sorrow at a lifetime of not knowing the whereabouts of her son is also evident, so the terrible actions of the nuns are never presented as anything less than atrocious, despite Philomena’s forgiving spirit.
Sometimes, the best faith films are the ones that are subtle, as Philomena is. It is clear that Philomena is a woman of faith, and the audience sees the fruit of her faith in her ability to forgive and her simple, confident responses to Martin’s tirades about God. Conversely, Martin is a deeply conflicted character filled with angst and cynicism, yet as his character is fleshed out we come to see the goodness of his heart, expressed by his desire to achieve justice for Philomena.
From faith to doubt, hard revelations and redemptive forgiveness, this film is relatable on so many levels, and presents a perspective on the Christian faith that is both critical and positive at the same time. So if you’re the sort of person who appreciates incredible character development, a gripping storyline, and a realistic portrayal of the consequences of abusing religion while remaining true to its ability to bring peace in a troubled life, I highly recommend Philomena.