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By Megan Bianco
In 1952 Ireland, an orphaned teenage girl named Philomena Lee (Sophie Kennedy Clark) is living in a convent when she becomes pregnant out of wedlock. After the nuns discover her condition, she is forced to work as a laborer for them and give birth without medication. When her baby turns three, he is sent away to a new family without her permission. Fifty years later, Philomena (Judi Dench) is fully determined to find out what became of her son and sets out to find him with the help of recently unemployed journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan).
There are many things going on in Stephen Frears’ Philomena that give audiences plenty to ponder. Philomena was treated horribly by the Catholic Church, but never lost her faith; the journalist is a Catholic-turned-atheist and some of the nuns were horribly unpleasant. Coogan, usually a comic on camera, brings some charm into Philomena’s heavy story (which is remarkably based on a real woman of the same name) with co-screenwriter Jeff Pope. Clark and Dench bring the title character to life effortlessly.
Philomena is one of the most intellectual films of the year and not a blatantly biased secular attack on Catholicism, but a must-watch for historic perspective. Frears, Coogan and Pope succeed in making viewers contemplate the separation church and faith and the abuses of power. And Dench’s performance should pave the way to her seventh Oscar nomination.—Megan Bianco