Philomena is the extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman. Philomena Lee was a naive teenager, whose only sin was to get pregnant out of wedlock. “Put away” in a convent by an Irish society dominated by the Catholic Church, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. For three years she cared for young Anthony, working all the while in the convent laundries. Then, like thousands of other ‘fallen women’, Philomena was forced to give up her child as a condition of being released from the near slavery she found herself in.
This was the fate of many young mothers with illegitimate children in Ireland. Only very recently has the Irish government apologised for the living hell that was inflicted on them. But Philomena’s tale is special. Martin Sixsmith’s book Philomena, and the film that is based upon it, tells the story of her decades-long search for the son she lost. It depicts the uncertainty, the hope, and the moments of despair. And at the end of it all, it reveals a remarkable human being with astonishing fortitude and a truly humbling willingness to forgive. To me it is astounding that Philomena still has her strong religious belief even after everything that was done to her. She questions things and is very open in speaking about her experiences, but her faith is unshakeable—as strong as it always was.