Philomena: The wrongs of religion & the rights of grace



While watching Philomena I found it hard not to get angry. The story of a woman who had her child taken away and sold on (to a well meaning AMERICAN family) by  the nuns she was sent to live with by her family is a real heartbreaker. As a parent I struggled deeply to keep watching as a young Philomena watched through a window to see a car take her boy away not knowing where to her nails digging deeper into the window frame.

I was angered further by the indifference of the nuns in attempting to help Philomena find her son. I wanted to cry out ‘where is your compassion, have you no soul!!’ I was becoming angrier as the film progressed. This anger was shared on screen by the journalist Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan) as a ‘recovering Catholic’ his anger at the ‘system’ was tangible  and not dissimilar to my own.

The films climax is where I was left stunned by Philomena herself (Judy Dench – what a performance by the way) as she address Martin and puts him in his place by challenging him with “all that anger, you must be so tired”. It hit like a punch to the gut.

Yes the story of Philomena, and the many like her,is terrible. The actions of the nuns were wrong and cruel (no pain relief for a breach birth as penance is just on example) but her reaction was even more incredible. 

Philomena showed a deeper understanding of her faith than the majority of the nuns showed her. She showed grace.

Grace is where forgiveness starts.

Grace is where the restart occurs.

Grace is the requirement for starting over.

Religion gets it wrong. Grace sets it right again.



Captain Phillips and a woman at a well.


“There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.”

“Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America.”

It’s a tale as old as time itself really good vs evil, right vs wrong,  good guys vs bad guys. However Captain Phillips takes a different slant. Yes there is still your basic good guys bad guys story line but what Paul Greengrass achieves in this fantastic knuckle chewing piece of work is not only a bit of balance but empathy for what cinema would normally pigeon-hole as the bad guys.

The film opens with scene setting from  both perspectives, That of Captain Phillips wonderfully played by Tom Hanks and the leader of the pirates, Muse who in no mean feat for a first timer (Barkhad Abdi) does some excellent scene stealing from Hanks.

The life of Somali pirates is wonderfully portrayed highlighting their circumstances that leave them with no other option than to turn to piracy. The quote above sums up their point of view and in many ways our Western arrogance and the assumptions that we make with regard not only to our place in the world but the place of others.

The rehumanisation of our enemies is nothing new, in John Ch 4 Jesus sits at a well with a Samaritan woman  This is significant not only for several reasons . Most notably a conversation with a Samaritan  would be unheard of. In that society Samaritans were the enemy, societal divisions are nothing new!  Also for a Jewish man to sit and converse with any woman people was not the societal norm.  This would not escape the attention of Scripture down the years. The biblical attitude SHOULD be to rehumanise our neighbours. The biblical attitude SHOULD be to subvert the ‘normal’ and to break through the societal barriers that hold us back.

In Belfast peace walls still exist and in fact new walls/fences are being erected. We are along way off where we should be and it will be  along journey to get us where we need to be. Perhaps its time to start our own conversations of rehumanisation and starting breaking down our societal norms.

Review: The Broken Circle Breakdown


I was fortunate enough to attend a free screening of The Broken Circle Breakdown at my local cinema. The film was showing as one of the contenders in the Lux Prize 2013 and it had grabbed my interest due its bluegrass soundtrack (which is worth a download by the way) and references to the music of Cash and Hank Monroe. What I didn’t expect was the emotional impact that the film would have on me.

This Belgian film has a similar structure to that of Blue Valentine in that we are shown the breakdown of a relationship between two people (Didier & Elise) who fell in love at first sight. We watch the relationship in flash backs and the sense of the impending breakdown is palpable throughout. Scattered amidst these heartbreaking scenes are performances by the band which add great emotional heft to the scenes previous and those to follow. One rendition of Wayfaring Stranger in particular is a real tear jerker.

Alongside the relationship is a little bit of political commentary regarding the treatment of cancer in the USA and the reluctance to use stem cells treatments. Also some rants at God for his lack of intervention in the family’s circumstances lead the viewer down paths of ‘why do good things happen to perfectly decent people?’

There are all sorts of strands going on within The Broken Circle Breakdown but all have equal weight and all have great relevance and impact.

It may be difficult to catch in cinemas (or may even be gone) but I can fully recommend trying to catch it on demand or on its dvd release.

*The Broken Circle Breakdown is released on DVD on 25 November 2013