|Judi Dench and Steve Coogan|
Martin Sixsmith authored a book entitled "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee," which was basically a biography of that child, a gay Republican (who was questioning some of his notions) who died of AIDS named Michael Hess. Hess becomes almost a mere footnote in the film version of the book, in which the main characters become his mother, Philomena (Judi Dench) and Sixsmith himself (Steve Coogan), who has just lost his job with the BBC and needs a new story immediately so he can get back in the game. He encounters an old woman named Philomena, who gave up her child to nuns many years ago and wonders what became of him and if he is still alive. In the mostly fictionalized movie, Sixsmith accompanies Philomena to the United States (a trip she actually never took) to find out what they can about her son so Sixsmith can write about it for the magazine footing the bill. Philomena has old-fashioned notions about gay men, supposedly knowing the very young boy was gay simply because he was "sensitive" and saying "maybe he played the harp -- he was gay, y'know." The movie certainly lets the Catholic Church off the hook when it comes to their antediluvian attitudes toward homosexuality. Frankly a story about Hess and the conflicts he endured would have made a much more interesting movie, and it's almost insulting that his story takes a back seat to the travails of his mother. Oddly, the producers apparently thought a movie about an 80-year-old woman would be more box office than one about a young gay man! That being said, the movie is absorbing enough for most of its length, but becomes less so when she learns about her son. Dench and Coogan give very good performances.
Verdict: Not what it could have been, and rather annoying at times. **1/2.