“Philomena,” star Dame Judi Dench, screenwriters Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, and composer Alexandre Desplat are all nominated for Oscars this year. It is the real-life story of Philomena Lee, who joined Coogan at the Golden Globes as a presenter earlier this month and spoke with great dignity about the women, like her, who were mistreated by the Magdalene sisters and forced to give up their babies for adoption.
In the movie, Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, a journalist who helped Philomena find out what happened to her son, who was adopted by Americans. [Spoiler alert] The Daily Mail has an interview and some photos of Philomena and Michael.
Philomena’s story is complex and harrowing, and yet the first thing that strikes you about Philomena herself is that she bears no rancour. She’s seen the film twice, she tells me, ‘and the first time was stressful, but the second time I enjoyed it, and I was so glad that they didn’t harp on about the Catholic church because I wouldn’t have wanted that’.
In Politico, writer Todd Purdum provides some additional information about the boy Philomena called Anthony Lee, and who was renamed Michael Anthony Hess when he was adopted at age 3. As shown in the movie, an American couple intended to adopt a little girl named Mary, to whom Anthony was devoted. Impulsively, they decided to take him, too.
Half a century later, Sixsmith brought Philomena to Washington, D.C., to find out what happened to him. He had become a lawyer, served as chief legal counsel to the Republican National Committee, and died of AIDS in 1995. His close friends knew he was gay, but he was not out in his professional life. Before he died, he made two trips to Ireland to try to find his mother, and his last request was to be buried at the convent where he was born.
Steve Dahllof, Hess’s partner for the last 15 years of his life, said in a telephone interview that the book was “about a three out of 10, in terms of accuracy,” while the movie, “in accuracy of spirit, is 10 out of 10.”
While the abuses of the Magdalene sisters in the 1950’s are documented, the movie has been criticized for its portrayal of the contemporary nuns and heightening some of the scenes for dramatic effect.