VENICE, Italy (AP) — Director Stephen Frears really wants Pope Francis to see his latest film, “Philomena,” the true story of a shamed Irish woman forced by nuns to give her son up for adoption in the 1950s. He wants it so much, he said so three times during a news conference on Saturday.
“I am very, very keen that the pope should see it, if you have any influence in those quarters,” Frears told reporters ahead of the film’s world premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
Asked to explain, he said: “He seems like a rather good bloke, the pope.”
“Philomena” stars Judi Dench in the title role as a woman who sought to locate her son, and Steve Coogan, as Martin Sixsmith, the journalist who accompanied her on her journey and wrote a 2009 book, which itself has been a catalyst for thousands of “shamed” Irish mothers who similarly lost their children to come forward.
“Whatever has happened in the past, a policy of openness and honesty is really the way forward. I think in a very small way, that is what this film is saying,” said screenwriter Jeff Pope.
In the story, Philomena Lee has kept the out-of-wedlock birth of her son secret for 50 years, while trying to locate him through the convent where she delivered him and was forced to work for four years to repay the nuns for taking her in. She and the other young mothers there were allowed to see their children for an hour a day.
Philomena’s child, Anthony, was adopted when he was three. On his 50th birthday she grows a new determination to find out how his life turned out and if he ever thought of her — finally revealing her secret. Sixsmith, a cynical former political journalist who was just fired from a government job, reluctantly takes on the human interest story and sets off on a journey to the United States with Philomena — a pairing that gives comedic turns to the tragic story.
Coogan, who also co-wrote the screenplay, said the film needed some comic relief, “otherwise it would be just a tragic, depressing story. The humor was important to lighten the mood, and sugar the pill. It was also important we didn’t overdo it. I said, ‘If I mug too much, or if my face becomes too animated, tell me to turn it down.’ ”
He said most of Frears’ direction was motioning from the side to bring it down a notch.
Dench called it “a shockingly terrible story, and it rightly should be told.” The actress met Philomena several times before filming, and admired her enduring faith and ability to forgive, which “is what makes her extreme, and makes the story worth telling,” Dench said.