Something for the weekend
Halloween may be over but you still can’t move for witches and ghouls as disreputable journalism gets dragged through the mud yet again – with the trial of Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson and the squabbling over press regulation this week – so it’s cheering to come across the story of a journalist who actually made the world a better place.
Martin Sixsmith is a former BBC journalist and Government spin doctor who left politics to go on to far greater things. One of which was helping Philomena Lee search for the son she was forced to give away more than 50 years ago as a ‘disgraced’ single teenage mother in Ireland. Philomena was locked away in an Irish convent for three years and her toddler son was stolen from her by the nuns simply because she was young and unmarried.
Martin Sixmith’s book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, caught the attention of comedian Steve Coogan and the result, the film Philomena, goes on general release tomorrow (Saturday 2 November).
I don’t normally rave over films, but I saw a preview of Philomena the other day and I haven’t stopped going on about it since. To be honest I didn’t know what we were going to see till I was settled into my seat and I think I would have run a mile had I known beforehand what we were going to see. Call me old-fashioned, but stories of snatched babies, especially when they are true, don’t scream ‘great night out’.
How wrong I was. The story of Philomena Lee’s search for her 50-year-old son, is towel-bitingly painful, but told with such intelligent care and wit that I laughed as much as I cried my way through it. The film is a labour of love by Steve Coogan, who is quietly brilliant as the jaded journalist Martin Sixsmith who finds himself seduced into investigating and writing Philomena’s story when his career as a Government spin doctor takes a nosedive.
He is paired with Judi Dench, whose cut glass vowels are transformed into Irish crystal to play the warm but razor-sharp Philomena as the two tour America together in search of her son.
The duo, and their contemporary understated style, makes Philomena as compelling an against-the-odds buddy film as The Shawshank Redemption and as intimate as a home movie. It also restores our faith in the power of journalism. Not showy heroic journalism as practiced by war reporters and photographers, but straightforward tenacious, imaginative and unremittingly nosey journalism as practiced by Martin Sixsmith and thousands of other unsung quietly courageous reporters who chip away at conventional arrogant unquestioned authority every day. I, like I’m sure many of you, tend to feel that true horror happens elsewhere, in war torn countries or history books – not here and now, right under our noses by little old ladies who serve us tea and cake from china plates.
Philomena proves that it does, and it took Alan Partridge to bring it to the attention of millions. So this week, as newspapers and reporters are being dragged through the mud by lawyers and politicians it’s reassuring to know that there are still some decent ones beavering away on our behalf. You can’t judge by appearances. I’m still readjusting my opinion of Steve Coogan who I had down as a bit of a mouthy know all with an unfortunate taste in shirts. Perhaps he’s a good old Norwich boy after all.
Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn