Philomena Lee

I was recently given a wonderful shoot by the Womens Institute to photograph a lady who is the subject of one of the UK’s most important films currently in cinemas. Judi Dench is tipped for an Oscar nomination for the portrayal of the lady in question with such an extraordinary tale, who is of course Philomena Lee.
Her story, which has been adapted for screen by Steve Coogan and directed by Stephen Frears, was chronicled by journalist Martin Sixsmith whom she met whilst on a quest to find her adopted son. The tragedy of Philomena’s story begins growing up in Catholic Ireland in the 1950’s where she became pregnant out of wedlock and was forced to have the baby in a Tipperary Convent. Penniless and disowned by her family she had to work in the Convent to pay her keep for three years after Anthony was born and it was only after this time that he was adopted to an American family against Philomena’s wishes. Unfortunately she had been forced to sign a form allowing the child to be adopted so there was nothing she could do to break the clause.
She kept the secret for over 50 years until she broke down one Christmas and told all to her daughter. The rest of the tale I will let you discover by watching the film, however the surprising feature of Philomena is that after all that heartache and sadness and maltreatment by the Catholic Church, she is remarkably forgiving.
We met in a hotel with her daughter Jane and she was the most gentle, warm lady. She adoringly talked of her lost son and chatted about her excitement at going to the premiere later that month and what outfit she was going to wear. The session was incredibly relaxed and just like a chat with a friend. Her tale is devastatingly sad but she is not a victim. As we parted she grabbed my hands and wished me a long and happy life which I found quite emotional from someone who has suffered such turbulence in her own.