Philomena – an Oscar for Dench

This film is a scathing and damning indictment of the practices of the Irish Catholic Church. All the more so because the central character refuses to condemn, and finally forgives, the nuns who destroyed her life. The tone of the film is carefully nuanced. You’d expect Philomena to be angry, but she’s not. Steve Coogan’s character, Martin Sixsmith is, but his anger is contrasted to Philomena’s faith and her refusal to condemn the nuns or the church. Indeed, it was not until the end of the film, when the immense duplicity of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in County Tipperary is finally revealed to her, that she finally agrees to having her story published.

How much of this is true will naturally be the source of some debate as the Catholic hierarchy moves into damage control. No doubt much of the criticism of the film will be that it is a carefully managed, anti-Catholic diatribe, which it is. It is also a great film.

Judi Dench is magnificent as Philomena and will surely rival Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine for an Oscar. One critical difference is that Dench’s Philomena is a character we can sympathise with, her naive charm and sense of humour combines with her refusal to condemn to make a far more likeable than the abrasive and self-centered Jasmine.

The film’s ending is deeply satisfying, there is no happy ending, just closure.

At the end of the Martin says to Philomena “And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” To which Philomena says,  “That’s very beautiful Martin, did you make it up?” The Oxbridge educated Martin replies, “No, it’s TS Eliot.” To which Philomena replies, “That’s all right. It’s still very beautiful.”