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This weekend will see the debut of Stephen Frears' docudrama Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight on HBO, but already here comes the trailer (courtesy of Yahoo) for his follow-up Philomena. Also based on a true story, this cheeky tale follows Martin Sixsmith, a world-weary journalist who switches gears from political intrigue to human-interest story when he meets the titular lady played by Judi Dench. The chipper Philomena was once an unwed mother in 1952 Ireland, and had her child taken away from her when she sought help at the convent of Roscrea, Co. Limerick. Fifty years have passed, and she is still searching for the baby boy she never knew. And Sixsmith is along for the quest’s highs and lows.
The trailer and the sunny poster below suggest a story with a wonderfully happy ending, but fair warning the real story was decidedly bittersweet. The real-life Sixsmith wrote a book about this journey called The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and Fifty-Year Search, on which the film is based. Further details and spoilers lie ahead.
As stated in the trailer, Philomena’s son was sent to America to be adopted. Renamed Michael Hess, he grew up to be a lauded lawyer, and rose into Republican politics, landing a spot in the first Bush administration. He was also gay, but being a Republican in the 1980s, obviously closeted. But all his life, he wondered about the mother from whom he had been torn away. While she searched for him, he searched for her, his efforts intensifying after he was diagnosed with AIDS. The book’s synopsis summarizes, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee is the story of a mother and a son, whose lives were blighted by the forces of hypocrisy on both sides of the Atlantic and of the secrets they were forced to keep. A compelling narrative of human love and loss, Martin Sixsmith's moving account is both heartbreaking yet ultimately redemptive.”
Coogan, who wrote the adapted screenplay with Jeff Pope, said of Philomena, "The film is a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy. It's about two very different people, at different stages of their lives, who help each other and show that there is laughter even in the darkest places."
The drama earned festival buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Sean dubbed it Oscar bait your mom will love. Katey concurred, pointing out Dame Judi Dench has a natural talent for attracting the Academy’s attention. Philomena will hit theaters in time to qualify for the 2013 awards, coming to theaters in the US in limited release on Christmas day. So take Sean’s advice, bring your mom…and a box of tissues would probably be a good idea.