Philomena Lee takes the hullabaloo with good humor, knowing
that the film she inspired — "Philomena" — not only has chances
of winning awards but also helping women who, like her, had
babies as teens and were forced to give them up.
"It is a challenge because I normally led a very quiet family
life when all this happened," said Lee when she stopped by the
Reuters newsroom this week in her whirlwind schedule.
But now she's fully aware of the power of her story on film.
"I have brought something out that was buried for so long," said
Lee, who now lives outside London. "And a lot of women like
myself just could not tell the story because you were made to
feel so bad about having a baby out of marriage."
Directed by Britain's Stephen Frears and co-written by comedic
actor Steve Coogan, "Philomena" is up for a Golden Globe on
Sunday for best motion picture drama. Judi Dench, who plays Lee,
is a front-runner to win best actress in a drama, while Coogan
and Jeff Pope are competing for best adapted screenplay.
"Philomena" also received four nominations this week for
Britain's top film honors, the BAFTAs. And its box office
performance, $45 million worldwide, is considered buoyant for a
film of its modest size.
The Weinstein Company, run by impresario Harvey Weinstein and
known for its aggressive promotion of films in awards season,
has organized a full slate of events this week for "Philomena,"
as the race for the Oscars on March 2 heats up around the
"England is a very small country and a modest country," said
Frears, perhaps best known for directing 2006's "The Queen," as
he accompanied Lee around town. "You come over here, and the
scale of things is amazing. It is very cheeky to come over here
with a British film."
And the filmmaker, who himself is 72, is quick to deflect
criticism of the promo machine in which he and his octogenarian
companion find themselves.
"I won't hear a word against Harvey," he said. "He's great. It's
when you haven't got Harvey that you are in trouble."
[to top of second column]
"HAD A GOOD DRINK"
"Philomena" begins with a teenage Lee giving birth to Anthony at a
Catholic convent in Ireland, which happened 61 years ago. She and
other young mothers are forced to work in the convent laundry, while
seeing their children once a day. At around age 3, Anthony is put up
for adoption by the nuns and is picked up by an American couple.
The film is based on the 2009 book by former BBC journalist Martin
Sixsmith, played by Coogan, who helped Philomena discover what had
happened to her son after 50 years of keeping his existence a
secret. And while the film's writers took license in telling the
story and leavened it with humor, Lee says she is fine with that
after some initial misgivings.
"In the beginning, the first time I saw it, there were one or two
things said and I thought 'Oh, gosh,'" Lee said. "You know. I am
fine with it, actually. It had to bring some laughter into the film
as well as tears. The film is so sad really. All my part is a true
Frears chimed in to note that after seeing it the first time, Lee
"went out and had a good drink."
"I had a gin and tonic," she added.
While she revels in the honor of being portrayed by Judi Dench, one
of her and Britain's favorite actors, what is most important to Lee
is the possibility that her story will prompt institutional change.
She thinks that the wheels are already in motion and points to
interest in Ireland in changing laws about personal information.
Both she and Anthony had separately inquired about each other's
whereabouts at the convent, only to be repeatedly rebuffed.
Philomena only discovered the truth thanks to the investigative
skills of Sixsmith.
During their joint interview, Frears peppered Lee with questions
about her story, even though the film wrapped long ago. And she
described scenes with cinematic flourish.
"For 61 years, I can see ... his little face. This nice nun rushed
me up to look out the window to see him going off in his car," said
(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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