A heartrending true story won’t get you everywhere in movies, but it can really help. And Philomena, based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by journalist and onetime UK government spokesman Martin Sixsmith, has a devastating tale to tell.
The film begins with Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, late of The Trip), a brittle Oxbridge type, newly out of a job and lowering himself to write a human-interest story. That’s how he meets Philomena (Judi Dench), an Irish lady with the kinds of questions that perhaps only a reporter could answer. As a teenager in the 1950s, Philomena got pregnant, was sent to a Catholic convent to hide her sin, and gave birth there. She remained at the convent as unpaid labor, and her little boy was taken at age 3, never to be seen or heard from again.