Lady Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan may look like an odd pairing for a film, especially one based on a serious, real-life story… at first.

Their acting styles are far from similar. However, the two of them together transformed an extremely tragic, yet very true story into a cleverly lighthearted one on film, while never straying from the primary, genuine meaning throughout.

You definitely have to credit the Screenwriters, as the dialogue was thoughtfully written. This is a film where you will both laugh and cry, while finding out some horrid truths and hypocrisies about an Irish Laundry/ Abbey where this film surrounds.

Martin Sixsmith and Philomena Lee, as photographed by the Guardian’s Graham Turner in 2009.

The two main characters, Martin Sixsmith (Journalist assisting Philomena in the search of her taken son – Coogan) and Philomena Lee (Dench) travel to Roscrea, Ireland, the site of a former laundry at Sean Ross Abbey. Philomena became pregnant outside marriage in her mid-teens, placed in the abbey by her disgraced father, and was forced to sign away all rights to her son, Anthony. Meanwhile having to work for the nuns to pay for Anthony to remain there in the Abbey. Little did she know the nuns would take him. The last time she saw him, as a toddler, he was being taken away by his adoptive parents. The tragic story of Philomena’s youthful experience as depicted in the film is mostly accurate, according to The Lost Child of Philomena Lee (now reissued simply as Philomena), the book Sixsmith wrote about her story.


Magdalene Laundries were church institutions in which young women who were accused or guilty of licentiousness, unwed motherhood, or prostitution were incarcerated and forced into menial labour, in which the church would profit. The children of these young women would be sold for adoption from the nuns and forced away from their birth mother, who has no choice in the matter, amongst other cruelties this film puts to light.

Not until 1996 did the last laundry in Ireland close.

Several other Magdalene survivors have now come out and told similar stories about what they went through. However, there are still mothers and children who are looking for each other, but are having troubles with the strict Irish adoption laws.

But the real Philomena, who is now in her 80’s, is doing something about that!

BBC – Philomena Lee in Irish Adoption Law Change Call

The Philomena Project

The cruelties shown by the nuns lead you to sympathise with the main character, Philomena (Dench). This true story will truly touch your heart.

Bravo to everyone involved with this film! Such a noble cause as well.

I went in watching this film thinking it would be depressing, but I was pleasantly surprised and even watched it twice in a row with my mum!

Side Note: Even though it’s implied in the film, Jane Russell did not adopt a baby from the Sean Ross Abbey, but she did adopt a child in London from an Irish woman.

Other Related Articles:
The Guardian – Philomena

The Guardian – Philomena Meets Pope ‘Those nuns would be jealous now!’

Irish Post – …Irish Hero Philomena Lee Must Not Be Forgotten

Washington Post – The Real Philomena Lee Finds Hollywood

The Telegraph – Philomena Calls on Vatican to Open Files on Forced Adoptions

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