New film on Catholic Church out

By The Rainbow

British director Stephen Frears said on Saturday Pope Francis should watch “Philomena”, his tragi-comic film which puts the spotlight on one of the Catholic Church’s dark secrets in Ireland.

The film, which has taken the Venice film festival by storm, tells the true tale of a mother’s search for her son in the context of Church-run institutions which stripped young unwed mothers of their children.

“I hope the pope will see it. He seems a rather good bloke the pope, very open,” Frears, director of the award-winning “The Queen”, said in the floating city.

The film, starring Judi Dench as mother Philomena Lee and comic actor Steve Coogan as the ex-BBC journalist who helps her, drew laughs, tears and rounds of spontaneous applause at its screening in Venice.

Based on the story in Martin Sixsmith’s 2009 book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”, the film tells the tale of a teenage girl who falls pregnant in Ireland in 1952 and is packed off to a convent.

Her baby son is given up for adoption and all trace of him is lost. Each time that Philomena returns to the convent to ask for information, the nuns clam up and claim they do not know who adopted him.

Ex-journalist Sixsmith, at a loose end after being sacked from his role as a government spin doctor, decides to help, sparking an unlikely alliance between an Oxbridge wise-cracker and a feisty Irish pensioner.

Dench, known by many for her role as the head of the British secret intelligence service “M” in the James Bond films, gives a compelling performance of a woman grappling with love, loss and her Roman Catholic faith.

“It is a shocking, terrible story and it’s right that it should be told,” she said.

Coogan, who worked on the screenplay with Jeff Pope, captures a delicate balance between irony and compassion, expressing all the outrage against the “evil” nuns that Philomena herself is unable to feel.

“It’s not a polemical attack on the Catholic Church, which would have been an easy thing to do. The script needed comedy because the story itself was so sad,” he said.

Pope said that he and Coogan “were very careful not to judge what happened in the 1950s by modern standards.”

“By far the bigger wrong was the cover up. The film is a message about not covering things up any more,” he said — at which point Frears repeated: “The pope should watch it!”

Frears said the real Philomena visited the set during shooting and described her as “a magnificent woman with no self-pity, who… despite all the injustices she has suffered still retains her religious faith”.

Dench said she and Philomena shared a sense of humour but she personally would not have been able to forgive the Church.

“I have a faith like hers which is very important to me: Quakerism. But I can’t imagine myself being in that position and being able to forgive, I don’t have the scale of humanity that she has,” she said.

“Her scope to forgive, that’s what makes the story worth telling,” she added. (AFP)