The Catholic Church in Ireland has much to answer for in “Philomena,” the real-life story of an Irish woman who was thrown into a convent as a pregnant teenager and forcibly separated from her baby son when he was 3 years old. She spent the next five decades searching for him.
Directed by Stephen Frears, “Philomena” is based on a book by journalist Martin Sixsmith (screenplay co-writer Steve Coogan, in a wonderfully wry performance), who, at the time of meeting Philomena Lee (the always remarkable Judi Dench), is at a crossroads in his life. Disgraced from the BBC’s political desk and estranged from his wife, Sixsmith is at first hesitant (and secretly ashamed) of taking on a human-interest story. But as he listens to her tale, his journalistic instincts are aroused. He takes off with her to the U.S. where the son — who would now be 50 — apparently lives.
It would come as no surprise if, in the third act, Philomena slapped a lawsuit on the Church, which the film suggests may have profited financially from the adoption of her son. But through the years, she instead remains a devout Catholic with an unflappable inner grace. Contradictorily, “Philomena” reminds you of the phrase that faith can indeed move mountains.