Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is a journalist turned spin doctor who is down on his luck. He was at the centre of a political storm that ended up with him being discarded. He’s now trying to get back into journalism, and finding it difficult. When he finds a human interest story, he considers it beneath him to work on such topics. He goes to meet with Philomena Lee with great reservations but she is a woman with an fascinating story to tell.
Philomena tells the story of Philomena Lee, who ended up in a Magdalene laundry in Roscrea at a tender age after a moment of indiscretion at a fair ground. She is put to work and only allowed to see her child for an hour a day. Her child is eventually sold to an American couple before she was released from the laundry to start her life again. Now 50 years later she has decided to try and find him again, and see what became of his life.
The early scenes in this film are that of an odd couple, with one from the higher echelons of English society and one an uncouth but friendly Irish woman. A lot of the moments of levity are based on Philoema’s ignorance of the ways of society. It is somewhat uneasy viewing as we are asked to laugh at the woman and her simple ways. It is a clash of worlds, and is a well worn track for a film to travel. This breaks as the two characters grow to respect each other as the story slowly unravels.
It is an impressive piece of film making that deals with a haunting and shocking story with a degree of humour that it requires. It would be difficult to tell this story without humour, as it would leave the film cold and harsh. Central to the piece is the performance of Coogan and Dench. It is difficult not to see Alan Partridge when you see Coogan, but he does a fine job of ‘escaping the Partridge’ and Dench is quite simply excellent.
It is great that this film will cause a new generation to see the horror of the Magdalene laundry, and it is the first piece of fiction I’ve seen deal with the topic well. The question has been asked about why it took an English director and cast to make this uniquely Irish tale, but maybe it is too close to home and better handled by those with perspective. It’s a harrowing and shocking story, but very rewarding.
Categories: Movie Review, Movies
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