“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding, Four Quartets”
Having kids really young out of wedlock is a totally normal thing now (almost TOO normal, if you ask me). But back in the day it wasn’t so easy for those young Irish-Catholic girls who in the midst of their love escapades accidentally got knocked up. If you know anything about the “back in the day” 1950s-era I’m talking about, it will be easy for you to picture those angry mothers and grandmothers forced to deal with the embarrassment (the SHAME!) of their beautiful daughter or granddaughter having a child before marriage, resulting in having to send her far, far away from anyone who might find out in the neighborhood.
In Roscrea, Ireland, to hide these accidental pregnancies (the Catholic way!), girls would be sent to church institutions (with less than ideal living conditions and evil nuns!) to have the baby and raise it until a willing family would come adopt, giving you a little preface of this gem of a movie Philomena that’s directed by Stephen Frears, based off a victim of this very phenomenon and her quest to find her stolen son who she loved so very much.
Her name is Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) (she’s 80 now in real life), and through a series of coincidences is brought together with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former BBC correspondent who “just got the sac” (he’s also kind of a smug jerk!). Initially he is suggested over to her by a waitress, Philomena’s daughter Martin (Anna Maxwell), while ordering a Pinot Grigio at a party. He’s trying to explain his next book endeavor for a Russian history piece (yawn!), then she suggests he come together with her mother, who just so happens to be looking for someone to write her story about the searching for her son. EVEN though he claims human interest stories are for “vulnerable, weak-minded, ignorant people,” he sure could use a writing gig.
As you can predict, the quest begins to discover 50 years lost between a mother and her child once upon a time, and what Philomena and Sixsmith find is completely fascinating and heartbreaking (this one’s a tear-jerker, you guys). When she finally discovers her son Anthony was a gay politician, a whole past enfolds of his private life through tracking down his lover Pete (Peter Hermann).
Go see Philomena with someone who could appreciate the story, someone who lived through this time (over 50,000 babies were adopted through these institutions before being shut down in the 90s). Coogan and Dench together are a thorough enjoyment (they should star in a buddy comedy next, I mean seriously) as they tell the story of thousands of mothers who like Philomena Lee had to give up the little one they loved.