While I was hoping to catch a glimpse of “Saving Mr Banks”, a Disney film that revolves around the origin of its iconic film Mary Poppins starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, the timing seemed not right for me.
That said, I browsed through TGV cineplex website and came across “Philomena”, a film inspired by real events. Moreover, the movie even rang my bell as I remember reading about it in the January issue of US ELLE magazine. Fine, I bought the ticket online and printed it out before calling it a day at the office.
Earlier it was raining outside but I have not the faintest idea of how the rain pattern was – drizzling or heavy downpour. But I knew it was raining because the floor and tarmac of Jalan Yap Kwan Seng were absolutely wet. There was a little drizzle from the sky but hell, why should I care when I have a movie to catch at TGV Suria KLCC within 10 minutes. By the time I reached the cinema, the trailers were on and the cinema was close to empty. Yes, there were, more or less, 10 people in the cinema and I took the centre seat at the last back row.
The lights turned dim and faded off, marking the start of the film. The film opened with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former journalist who was sacked from the Labourer party as government advisor meeting his general practitioner (or what we know as doctor in Malaysia).
When asked about his future plan, Sixsmith told the doctor that he plans to write a book on Russian history. His doctor found it as boring and immediately advised him to start running.
One evening, he and his wife attended an evening mass. Sixsmith got bored and exited the church, waiting for his wife outside. Now comes Philomena Lee (Dame Judi Dench), a meek Irish old lady who came to light a candle at the church, in conjunction with the birthday of her lost child. Known for her stunning performances in movies such as Shakespeare in Love, Tea with Mussolini and the 007 franchise as M, Dench effortlessly brought Philomena’s character to life. Her Irish accent was close to bona fide.
One night, her daughter was filling in staff shortage at a party and met Sixsmith. Prior to that, Sixsmith was introduced to an editor who was not interested in his initial plan – to write a book on Russian history – and told him to call her when he has stories that will interest her audience.
The story goes on with Philomena’s daughter hooking her mother up with Sixsmith; made a trip to Ireland and the past began to unravel. Her search ended in the United States where her son was adopted by an American family, renamed as Michael Hess and grew up as an attorney during both Bush and Reagan’s administration ̶ a closet gay attorney who later died due to AIDS complication in 1995.
In this film, the nuns of the Sean Ross Abbey were cast under bad light as merciless women who took in pregnant unmarried women and gave away their wedlock children to American families via forced adoption programme.Of course it courted a controversy among the Catholics and you can read it all on the Internet.
From scene to scene, my focus remained not on the storyline but on Philomena Lee. Despite losing her virginity in a tryst at a local fun fair, she seemed to be a “virgin”: She couldn’t understand certain jokes; she’s easily fascinated by everything new from free drinks at British Airways Club Class flight (she told Sixsmith that she would have to pay for her drink on Ryanair) to all-inclusive buffet breakfast in Washington DC and she’s friendly to almost everyone.
Though she was separated from her own child for the span of 50 years, her motherly instinct remained strong and she knew it that her son would grow up to be a gay man and has no fuss on it. In a way, one could see a spectrum of characteristic layers in Philomena – vulnerable, naive, instinctive and strong-willed – despite all the harrowing phases of life and the emotional pain that she went through.
Though the plot seemed tad long-winded to me, I find it an interesting film to watch indeed. And what’s my verdict for this film? I would give it an A+ with credits due to Judi Dench’s impeccable performance, the Super 8 cinematic mood, and the home video-styled flashback vignettes.
Phiolmena is showing now at selected cineplex outlets nationwide. Oh, before I forget, do bring a packet of tissues with you as you might end up sobbing.