Saturday, August 24, 2013

Reel People: Judi Dench is Philomena Lee

The film is Philomena. Oscar nominated director Stephen Frears (The Grifters, and The Queen) brings the story to life with an adapted screenplay by Steven Coogan and Jeff Pope based on the book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son, and A Fifty-Year Search by Martin Sixsmith.

Philomena Lee

Philomena Lee was born in Ireland in the early 1930s. When her mother died at the age of six she was sent to a Catholic convent to attend school. Shortly after turning 18 and leaving the convent she became unsuspectingly pregnant.

Unwed and catholic in the early 1950s her family sent her in secret to a country convent in Roscrea in County Tipperay. Her she would finish out her pregnancy and give birth to a baby boy Anthony Lee on July 5, 1952.

The practice of unwed mother's was not unique to Ireland during this time, and the government of Ireland in addition to paying the church for the care of woman and children also gave the church authority in the dealing of unwed mothers and their children.

Philomena Lee, like other's in her position, was forced to remain at the convent with her child after giving birth, given the option to pay a high sum of money for the release for her care or to work off her debt, which she would do over the next three years while also raising Anthony alongside other unwed mothers.

When Anthony was three, the church required Philomena to sign a renunciation document that required her to relinquish her rights to her son, and surrender him to Sister Barbara, Superioress of Sean Ross Abbey. This allowed Sister Barbara to make her available for adoption. She also was forced to agree not to seek out her child in the future.

Christmas of 1955, Anthony Lee was adopted to an American family, Doc and Marge Hess from St. Louis, Missouri. The Hess family had three boys and wanted a girl, and when Anthony ran up to Marge when she was visiting the convent to get a little girl, she became enamored with Anthony and adopted him as well.

The church received the donation (fee) for the adoptions and Philomena attempted to return to her own family, but her father would not accept her due to the shame she had placed on him and the family. Philomena returned to the church were she was sent to work in a home for disadvantaged boys in Liverpool

Philomena trained as a nurse and was married in 1959. She would have two more children, and would not share with her children the secret of their brother.

Philomena would return to the convent in Roscrea requesting information on her son from the nuns for years, but never shared her secret of her child with anyone else. The convent turned her away every time reminding her of her agreement to not seek out her child.

In 2004, Philomena's daughter Jane discovered through a comment her mother made that she had a secret brother, and that her mother had kept it a secret for over 50 years. At a party, Jane sought out reporter Martin Sixsmith at a party and shared what she knew and sought his help to track down her brother.

Through their work they discovered that Philomena Lee was not alone in her situation, that there were many secret adoption records from Irish children adopted by families primarily int he United States through the 1970s. They also, in there search eventually found the fate of Anthony, who's name had been changed to Michael Hess, he himself had traveled to Ireland in 1977 and 1993 to try to find the fate of his birth mother from the nuns. Hess had become a corporate lawyer in the republican party and chief legal counsel for George H. W. Bush during his presidency. Hess was also secretly gay, and had contracted HIV. In August of 1995 he died.

Philomena discovered the fate of her son when she was in her 70s, but never had the chance to meet or see her child in his adulthood.

Philomena's secret was out and her story was told in the 2009 book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son, and A Fifty-Year Search by Martin Sixsmith.


The film Philomena, tells the story of Philomena's search for her son. In addition to Judi Dench playing the part of Philomena, Steve Coogan co-stars as journalist Martin Sixsmith.The relatively new-to-the-scene actress Sophie Kennedy Clark will be playing the young Philomena. Broadway star Sean Mahon plays Michael Hess.

The film will be screened at the 70th Venice International Film Festival.

Oscar favorite Judi Dench (6 nominations and 1 win, all since 1998), will certainly gain attention for her performance. Will she receive another nomination, perhaps even a Oscar win for her portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person?


Ed Bonderenka said...

Masterful performance!

Ed Bonderenka said...

Masterful performance!

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