Dame Judi Dench and the real Philomena Lee photographed at a BFI event

Run, don’t walk, to see “Philomena,” the new movie about the true story of an Irish Magdalene laundry woman, the child she gave birth to and his subsequent adoption to America.

Judi Dench in the title role gives a performance I can only describe as breathtaking, and surely an Oscar winning one. Steve Coogan as journalist Martin Sixsmith who joins her on her quest for her son is also outstanding.

Philomena Lee’s baby was snatched from her at age 3 at the laundry where she worked and sold to America. All her life she sought him, only to find he was seeking her too, but the nuns in Roscrea, Tipperary, who sold him never told her.

He had risen to the top levels of the Reagan administration in America, but had always wanted to find the mother who gave birth to him.

She on the other hand had made a successful life as a nurse in Britain and had a new family, but never forgot the little boy she last saw through the bars of the prison-like laundry she was locked up in.

The incredible courage of Philomena, determined to seek her son despite being told by the nuns they had no idea where he was, is at the heart of the movie.

Somehow Philomena enlisted noted BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith in her quest and the interaction between the two, played by Dench and Coogan is wonderful.

Throughout I had to pinch myself that I was watching fact not fiction as the incredible tale unfolded, especially with the incredible twist at the end. What occurred was a microcosm of what happened during the blighted 1950s era in Ireland when church and state lorded over everyone and pushed a punishing God who deliberately punished the weak.

As a young girl Philomena fell in love and became pregnant. Punished for her sin, she was sent to the convent in Roscrea where she endured agony in a breech birth with the nuns saying she deserved it for having sex.

She was condemned to a dreadful life as effectively a slave laborer, but was allowed to see her young child an hour a day – until one day the child was gone, snatched by a wealthy American couple who paid the nuns handsomely for the privilege.

In an interview with the LA Times the real Philomena discussed her incredible quest.


“All I ever, ever, ever wanted to do was find him. And once I'd found him, I found out he was dead. That was an awful shock, but then again, as I say, that's how life is. But now I've got his whole life story. He had a wonderful life in America, a very good education, he was a very clever man and I was so sad when I heard he'd died, because he was only 43 at the time and I was very sad.

But at least he had his ashes brought home to Ireland. Living in England, I'm not far away from the grave, so I can go over and have a little prayer there. We tried to find him for so long over the years, we tried to find him ever so. But it wasn't meant to be.”

Here’s the trailer for the movie: