Philomena poster
Directed by Stephen Frears
Produced by Gabrielle Tan
Steve Coogan
Tracey Seaward
Written by Steve Coogan
Jeff Pope
Starring Judi Dench
Steve Coogan
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography Robbie Ryan
Editing by Valerio Bonelli
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release 27 November 2013
Running time 95 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $11,914,678
Gross revenue

Philomena is a 2013 British drama film directed by Stephen Frears. It was screened in the main competition section at the 70th Venice International Film Festival where Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope won the award for Best Screenplay. At the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival it was awarded the People's Choice Award Runner-Up prize. The film is based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, which tells the true story of Philomena Lee's 50 year long search for her son. The book focuses more, as the title suggests, on the life Michael/Anthony had after his adoption.


Journalist Martin Sixsmith has just lost his job as a Labour government adviser, and isn't sure whether to take up running or write a book about Russian history. Meanwhile, Philomena Lee confides to her daughter that, 50 years earlier, she had given birth to a son in Ireland, but because she was not married she had been forced to give him up for adoption. Soon after, Martin meets the daughter at a party. Although he initially scorns human interest stories, he needs work and an editor wants the story. He meets Philomena, and they start to investigate what had become of her son.

Philomena had given birth to her son Anthony at the convent in Roscrea, was forced to sign away parental rights to her son – but still cared for him until he was adopted at age three – and worked as an indentured laundry lady. Her best friend at the convent had a daughter, Mary; the children were best friends as well. A couple had come to the convent to adopt Mary, and had taken away both children because they were inseparable.

Martin and Philomena begin their search for her son at the convent. The nuns are polite and welcoming, but they have no information. The adoption records had been lost in a fire years earlier, they said. Drowning his frustration at a pub, Martin meets a young man who tells him rumours he had heard from the old-timers: the convent deliberately destroyed the records in a bonfire, and that they had sold the children to adoptive parents, mostly in the United States.

As a journalist and political adviser, one of Martin's specialties is the US, where he has numerous contacts. Although they reach a dead end in Ireland, Martin's contacts in the US might be able to help. Searching passport and other records, Martin finds that Philomena's son had been adopted by Doc and Marge Hess, who renamed him Michael Hess. He grew up to be a high-ranking official in the Reagan administration. He was also gay, and closeted because the Republican Party was "rabidly homophobic".[6] He had died nine years earlier, of AIDS.

Martin reluctantly informs Philomena of his findings – but they press on, to find people who had known him. From old photographs, Martin realises he had actually met Anthony/Michael when Martin was working for the BBC. They visit Michael's co-adoptee Mary, who tells them that their adoptive mother had been loving, but their father and brothers had not shown love for Michael. Mary gives them the name of Michael's most serious boyfriend, but doesn't tell them what Philomena most wanted to know: whether he had ever tried to find his birth mother.

After avoiding Martin's attempts to contact him, Michael's former boyfriend finally agrees to talk to Philomena. He says that Michael had always wondered about his birth mother, and had visited the convent in Ireland to find out more about her – but the nuns lied and told him that they had lost contact with her. He says that Michael's dying wish was to be buried in the convent's graveyard, in hopes that his mother might eventually find the message on his grave stone.

The story ends where it begins: at the convent. Martin confronts one nun who had been around when Philomena's son had been taken from her. The nun is unrepentant, saying that losing her son was Philomena's penance for the sin of fornication. Philomena, on the other hand, forgives the nun. Philomena then locates her Anthony/Michael's grave and reads the stone.


  • Judi Dench as Philomena Lee
  • Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith
  • Mare Winningham as Mary
  • Anna Maxwell Martin as Jane
  • Michelle Fairley as Sally Mitchell
  • Ruth McCabe as Mother Barbara
  • Barbara Jefford as Sister Hildegarde
  • Peter Hermann as Pete Olson
  • Simone Lahbib as Kate Sixsmith
  • Sophie Kennedy Clark as Young Philomena
  • Wunmi Mosaku as Young Nun

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