Philomena, based on The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, is about a woman’s search for her son. Michael Hess was a high ranking member of the Republican National Committee who became George Bush, Sr’s legal advisor. He was taken from his mother, Philomena, while she was forced to live at the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland. The Magdalene Laundries was the inspiration behind The Magdalene Sisters, a 2002 movie about the abusive girls home.
Philomena is not as graphic as The Magdalene Sisters. Unlike a number of recent movies about troubled teen centers, is it not filled with 20 somethings. There are no cute guys or girls. Ryan Gosling has left the building! Philomena, the survivor, is played by Judi Dench. It’s refreshing, in a way, because this movie does hit on the long term psychological effects that can follow a survivor of an abusive school or orphanage.
There are some interesting revelations in the movie. We see overgrown weeds covering the graves of many 14 year old girls who died in child birth. I was not aware Howard Hughes favorite pin up, Jane Russell, ‘bought a baby’ at the Magdalene Laundries. I don’t want to give away too much, but I must say that Philomena’s actions toward the end of the movie really pissed me off.
The plot has Martin Sixsmith, the former BBC broadcaster (played by Steve Coogan), helping Philomena by discovering that her child was adopted by Americans. He flies her to Washington D.C. where they learn he was a high ranking player in both the Reagan/Bush administrations. He died of AIDS before Philomena could meet him.
Little does she know, he actually tried to find her. But the big nun on campus lied to him and kept mother and son apart for his entire life. They discover her son is buried at the Magdalene Laundries. Again, no one even thought to notify Philomena even as she kept making inquiries throughout the decades.
Martin, who by the way is an Atheist (which triggers a number of religious discussions in the movie), leads her back to Ireland where she views her son’s grave. They both confront the nuns and Martin gives a passionate and eloquent rebuke to the nuns. Philomena, upon hearing this rebuke, throws a wet towel on him by forgiving the most brutal nun. The White Knight has egg on his face. Thanks Philomena!
I liked this movie and recommend it. The fact that the main character made me very angry is beside the point. It’s been a long time since any movie was able to touch a harsh nerve, so I’ll give it credit for doing so. The presence of the Martin Sixsmith character provides a nice contrast between those who want to lock up the proprietors of places like this, and Philomena, the picture of forgiveness, who would probably be dismissed as a pro-Catholic mole in most Facebook survivor groups.
Check it out! And, if you are interested in learning more about the Magdalene Laundries, watch this interview of the late Michele Ulriksen, a former inmate of Victory Christian Academy in Ramona, CA (an abusive IFB girls home that was closed in the early nineties), as she watches The Magdalene Sisters.
For more reading about Philomena, Martin Sixsmith, and her son, Michael Hess: