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When she fell pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) was sent to the convent to be looked after as a fallen woman. She cared for her baby for three years until the Church took him from her and sold him, like countless others, to America for adoption. Coerced into signing a document promising never to attempt to see her child again, she nonetheless spent the next fifty years secretly searching for him, unaware that he was searching for her from across the Atlantic.
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The plot begins with Philomena Lee (marvelously played by Judi Dench) , a retired Irish woman living in England with her grown daughter, staring at a small old photograph of a little boy about 3 years old. When her daughter, Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin), asks, Philomena reveals a secret she's kept all her adult life - that when she was a young girl in Ireland she had a son out of wedlock that she was forced, very much against her will, to give up for adoption. The details of her story are revealed in flashbacks in which we see young Philomena (a compelling performance by Sophie Kennedy Clark) held in one of Ireland's now infamous Magdalene Asylums, institutions run by various orders of nuns where many young Irish girls of the time were sent for getting pregnant (as well as any number of other "improprieties" such as engaging in prostitution, being promiscuous or sometimes just for flirting), becoming virtual prisoners - and slave labor - beyond the reach of the secular law and with no hope of appeal. She has been haunted by this her entire life, always wondering what became of her little boy, and finding her every attempt to find out thwarted by the implacable bureaucracy of the Irish church.
At the same time, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan in a deft counterpart to Dench), a former adviser to the current Labour government at the time, has just lost his job due to a minor scandal due to something he said. Given the sack in his mid-fifties, Martin is at loose ends, unsure of what to do with himself, vacillating between taking up running or pursuing a vaguely-formed notion of writing a book on Russian history. Prior to working in government though, Martin was a journalist of sorts, and while at a party an editor friend of his suggest that perhaps he should try his hand at doing a "human interest" story. Jane, who happened to be at the party, overhears this and approaches Martin with the story of her mother's dilemma over her lost son, thinking that perhaps he can help. Martin, who had openly said he wasn't interested in doing human interest story as he considered them nothing but fluff, brushes her off. But later, when pondering his options, he finds himself drawn back to Jane's idea. He gets her name and number from another friend and calls her to set up a meeting with Philomena, and soon they're off, going first to the convent in Ireland, where Martin learns firsthand just what Philomena has been up against.
I can't speak of what subsequently unfolds plot-wise without spoiling the revelations and discoveries that are made, but a lot of what makes the film so enjoyable is simply watching Dench and Coogan's mismatched characters interact with each other. Where Martin is world-weary, a bit cynical and of a suspicious nature, Philomena is trusting, irrepressibly chatty, and finds delight in the simplest things, all of which tends to drive Martin up the wall. But in spite of the first impression that we first get of her, as the film progresses Philomena reveals that she's far from naive about life, having moments where she shows a remarkably clear-eyed view of the world (particularly when it comes to sex). It's simply that she refuses to let the bad things that have happened to her color her view of everything else in life. But this attitude, while in some ways admirable, is not very helpful when one is up against forces that are deliberately trying to prevent people from digging up the past, and this is where Martin's suspicious nature proves its worth as he begins to examine the stories they're being told and openly question their veracity, a thing Philomena by nature is not capable of. But what truly works more than anything else is the way Dench's Philomena is delightfully funny even though she's not trying to be, completely oblivious to the way she's coming across to Martin, while Coogan's Martin is hopelessly inept at being funny, most especially when he's trying to be, one of those unfortunate individuals who cannot tell a joke to save their life. It's a comic chemistry of a very human kind, made completely natural by two superb actors at the top of their form.
Also worth mentioning is the beautiful film score by Alexandre Desplat that heightens the mood without intruding on or distracting from the events on screen, and the cinematography by Robbie Ryan that really captures the intimacy of the story and the characters involved.
On a side note, it helps if you can find Peter Mullan's 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, which is all about the Magdalene Asylums and their decades-long horrendous abuses of vulnerable young Irish women, most notably forcibly taking their children away from them and compelling the women to work in the institution's laundries which the nuns operated as a commercial enterprise, reaping the profits while the women working in them got nothing. The parts of Philomena that only touch on those abuses fall into greater context if you've seen the earlier film.
Highly, highly recommended as an engaging film on every level, a very human story worth hearing, and for the wonderfully mismatched chemistry between Dench and Coogan's characters.
Philomena(Judi Dench) is the name of the English woman who was grown in a convent by nuns.
When she was 16, she got pregnant and the nuns treated her as a sinner, took away her child, sold him to America.
After 50 years, she is desperate to find her adopted son and her daugher meets this journalist (Steve Googan) who usually writes other matters rather than human stories but finally decides to help her finding her son/ write a story about what happened back then.
There are severel or many of the same or similar stories already made from Europe but none of them touched me this deep.
Only Stephen Frears –FLORENCE Foster JENKINS, THE QUEEN, MRS HENDERSON PRESENT- can be possible made this emotionally so touching drama.
Also Judi Dench once and for all deserves an Oscar winner for sure.
She was not flamboyant or cried or shout or anything but she was so very herself all into the character. I was even wanted to see this movie a little more even during the credit is rolling. I wanted to see more of her life! Philomena’s life!
All of the Stephen Frears’ movies are so delicate and instant classic that you should just have to buy them and collect them.
Steve Googan doesn’t believe in god that much. He thinks that they are in some way fraud. When he hears about what happened to Judi Dench, he was so angry and that anger helped her all the way. I felt his justice.
When they finally have researched and even meets the lover of the son, they found out that after the son- he was gay and got AIDS- got AIDS, he visited the convent to trace his mother, they all lied by saying she abandoned him and never wanted to meet him.
He was even buried in the yard at the convent.
They thought that she was a sinner and deserved not to even meet the son even after 50 years apart.
May I ask what kind of a sin that she’ve made?
Had sex with a boy whom he loved at an early age? Is that it?
Is is so against god that she has to let go of him abroad not even knowing that the nuns are selling the baby to America?
Not even be able to meet him after he was succeeded –He became a team for the President Regan as a politician– and came back to meet her but they lied that she didn’t wanted to see him ever?
Sometimes if the movie is so real, the charactors are so great, as an audience, I become so angry as well at the fact.
But how she reacted was, I was wrong.
I am happy to know that I finally had a chance to retrace him.
Don’t blame the nuns. They did nothing wrong.
I was wrong.
But for Steve Googan as a man, he couldn’t help becoming so angry.
The very old nun still think that she is a sinner and what she did was all right.
After everything have been passed, they finally wrote this into a book.
It was all revealed into this book.
As I said, there are a lot of similar movies dealing with this matter but this movie stands alone so vivid because of the director Stephen Frears.
He knows how to cook two actors so well.
Judi Dench constantly talks about what she thinks, at the beginning it was kind of tiresome but as time goes by we begin to fall in love with that.
Steve Googan, a kind understanding man, a man with responsibility, brave and righteous man.
This movie deserves more attention.
Where to buy :dvd is 7.00$ , bluray is 8.59$ , Korea dvd is 20$
When sophisticated and cynical journalist, Martin, loses his job, he is approached by the grown daughter of Philomena Lee. Philomena, fifty years earlier was forced to give up her four year old son to comparatively rich Americans who in collusion with the Irish government and the Catholic charities literally bought the children of unwed mothers.
Philomena gave birth under harsh circumstances then was mercilessly worked to pay her 'debt' to the Sisters in their laundries for four years. Though never given a chance to say goodby to her son or even told that he would be adopted, she has never forgotten him or stopped trying to find him.
Her worries are endless--is he homeless, a drug addict, did he die in Viet Nam -and most hilariously--is he obese?--she's heard that is an enormous problem in America due to portion sizes. Her worries are both unfounded and very real--her son had done very well in life, was loved but died young. In the interim, he tried to find her as well, and asked to be buried in the churchyard of the place he was adopted from.
How Philomena reacts when she finds out about her son's life, the gentle lessons she teaches Martin, and her enduring love and ability to forgive are lovingly portrayed in this touching and often humorous story.
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The storyline is great.