It has been almost eleven years after the groundbreaking and award-winning film “The Magdalene Sisters” (2002), a fictionalized drama based on three young Irish women who survive the dehumanizing abuse as inmates of a Magdalene Sisters Asylum, one of many that existed in Ireland and other parts of the Catholic world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Now, we have the remarkable and moving story of Philomena Lee, in the movie named after her, in which she searches for over fifty years for the little boy taken from her as a teenager.
“Philomena”, nominated for four major Academy Awards, has focused on an American journalist’s journey to help Philomena Lee recover from the agonizing, unhealed wound of losing her child while in a Magdalene laundry for pregnant and other “immoral” teenage girls. The asylums were named after the prostitute Mary Magdalene. The last laundry was closed in 1996.
The story focuses on a determined aging Irish woman who never forgot the son she was forced to give up, even after marriage and the birth of a daughter. In a rather miraculous series of events, Philomena is able to identify the son, adopted by rich Americans, whose name was changed to Michael Hess. There are some amazing coincidences and investigative reporting on the part of her advocate, the journalist Martin Sixsmith. Accompanying Philomena on her emotional, unexpected journey to find her son and learn of his contribution to American politics, Sixsmith is unfailing in his support.
A powerfully acted film with the great Judi Dench as Philomena and the equally phenomenal Steve Coogan as Sixsmith, the actual horrors of the Magdalene laundries are not as vividly portrayed as in the earlier movie “The Magdalene Sisters”, but the personalization of the horror in one loving woman’s healing is unforgettable. Not depressing by any means, the strong-willed Philomena seems to have learned that life requires forgiveness in order to heal.