Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

November 25, 2013

CALLERI: Judi Dench's new movie shifts gears too often

Niagara Gazette — In “Philomena,” Judi Dench gives two performances because the movie she’s in doesn’t seem to know whether it’s a drama or a comedy. I wish that directors, screenwriters and producers responsible for this ever-increasing duality would stop. Make the audience cry or make the audience laugh. But cease trying to be all things to all moviegoers.

This annoying grasp for thematic communal togetherness is detrimental to the experience of watching films. The people in the theater are already part of a community, a gathering of folks sitting in the darkness. There’s no need to deliver bland “one size fits all” entertainment.

“Philomena” tells a true, serious, and disturbing story, so why the jokes? The movie is based on the nonfiction book “The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith, who is a central character in the film and is played by comic actor Steve Coogan.

While a teenager in Ireland, Philomena becomes pregnant in an era that can hardly be called enlightened. Being sexually promiscuous was tantamount to being a criminal. In 1952, she’s sent to a convent in a country village. After giving birth to a son, Philomena is required to live at the convent for years working in the laundry in conditions that are oppressive. The nuns who run the convent are stern taskmasters overseeing slave labor.

In the 1950s and 1960s, tens of thousands of unmarried Irish teenagers and young adults were sent to convents across the nation to give birth. They were forced to live in servitude because the Catholic Church considered the single mothers morally unfit. They had to work to pay back the church for living in what was essentially a religious prison camp. Adding to their heartbreak, as mothers, they were allowed only an hour a day to bond with their child. Worse was the fact that the girls were forced to sign away their children, who were put up for adoption and sold to people from around the world. Once a girl worked off her debt, or if her shamed family would be willing to pay a fee to get her released, she could go home. Philomena’s little boy was three when he was adopted, and she was present to witness the moment.

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