Niagara Gazette — Joni Mitchell wrote a song called “Magdalene Laundries” about this chapter in history. And it wasn’t unique to Ireland. Across Europe and in the United States, these “Magdalene asylums,” many run by religious orders, housed and abused females of all ages for nearly two centuries.
For 50 years, Philomena, a quiet, reserved and respectful woman, wondered deeply about what happened to her son. Through circumstances almost too contrived to believe, she meets Sixsmith, a former journalist and disgraced public official, who was once a member of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s team.
Sensing a way out of his own miasma, Sixsmith agrees to write Philomena’s story. They start their seemingly impossible journey at the convent, where the nuns keep reality from public view. Through some information they are told quietly and some research on the internet, they discover that Philomena’s child was adopted by an American couple. Before you know it, they are gadding about Washington, D.C., staying in a luxury hotel, and toddling around the surrounding countryside searching for what happened to baby Michael.
In fact, he had grown up to become an attorney who worked in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. I won’t reveal a couple of other interesting elements that are tossed into the pot, but where once Philomena was sweet and unassuming, she is now a super sleuth.
It’s in Washington that the movie gets silly. The comedy is ratcheted up. Are we really supposed to believe that Philomena doesn’t know about foods at breakfast buffets, especially waffles, or that hotel rooms have showers AND tubs? All seriousness of purpose is thrown out the window overlooking the balcony from which Philomena can see the dome of the Capitol Building.
Once the Washington sojourn is over, and with it the knowledge that Philomena knows surprisingly quite a bit about gay men, she and Martin return to Ireland, where they will confront Sister Hildegarde, who just might be the most evil nun in motion picture history.