Philomena is a film that has flown under most people’s radars. Surprisingly, it was nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, but it was probably the least known film out of all the nominees. This is sad because Philomena is a well made film that Christians should take note of. It is a story of faith, but it is certainly not your average Christian movie. It is the project of Steve Coogan, a British comedian and atheist, who does a fantastic job of bringing this true story to the big screen.
Philomena tells the story of a woman who was sent to live in an orphanage. As a teenager living in the orphanage Philomena (Judi Dench) becomes pregnant. She is chastised for her wrongdoing and forced to work to pay the nuns back. She is allowed to see her child for only one hour a day and one day her child is taken from the orphanage without her knowing. Fifty years later she tells her story to Martin Sexsmith (Steve Coogan), a journalist, who helps track down her son. Sexsmith helps Philomena and discovers that her story is a very common one.
I hate to say it but many Christian films that are made today are shallow and lack depth. I wish this were not the case, but it is true. Philomena is not that kind of story. It is a story of amazing faith in the midst of some very tragic events. No one is perfect in the film. All the characters wrestle with something in their life. Martin Sexsmith wrestles with unbelief. The nuns where Philomena was raised wrestle with a rigid and legalistic understanding of Christianity. Philomena (Judi Dench) wrestles with guilt. Philomena is the one person who has a legitimate reason to doubt or complain and yet she is the most faithful of anyone in the film.
Philomena is a film Christians should pay attention to for several reasons. It is a story of faith in the midst of tragedy. It is a story of what happens when people are made to feel guilty for their sins and are never allowed to experience the full forgiveness of God. It is a story of how grace and forgiveness ultimately triumph. Most importantly it is a story of why unbelievers are both turned off and turned on by religion. There are characters within the film that portray two very distinct faces of religion. Most of the nuns in the abbey are rigid and legalistic. This legalistic approach to the faith causes them to do things which are unethical and wrong to the rest of the world. At one point in the film their actions are described as “evil” by those outside the church. On the other side is Philomena, a person who has been wronged and treated terribly by the church, but who still believes. Her faith makes no sense to unbelievers, but they are intrigued by it. Philomena displays grace and offers a forgiveness that both confuses and amazes at the same time. The real life Martin Sexsmith was mesmerized by Philomena, and Steve Coogan was so enamored with this story that he wrote the screenplay and produced this film. These two well-known unbelievers were drawn in by Philomena, a simple woman of faith. For this reason alone we should pay attention to this film.
Philomena is a well made film. It is one of those rare films where everything just comes together. The acting, direction, and story are all superb. There are films that are technically good made every year, but films with as much depth as Philomena are sometimes hard to find. It is rare to find an atheist devote themselves to a film about faith. This should tell you something about Philomena. This is a special story and special film. Don’t overlook this small independent film. It may look little but this film will give you something to chew on for a long time to come.