Dame Judi's taking on the child-snatchers in gritty drama about mother forced by the Catholic Church to sell her child
00:07 GMT, 28 September 2012
Judi Dench is to star in a film about a mother’s painstaking search for the son she was forced, by the Catholic Church, to sell to rich Americans.
It’s a real-life tale of heartbreak, bigotry and religious cruelty.
The film, called Philomena, is based on a book researched and written by Martin Sixsmith, a former BBC TV foreign correspondent and government communications director.
Real-life bigotry: Judi Dench, right, will star in Philomena alongside Steve Coogan, left, a true story about a mother's painstaking search for the son she was forced, by the Catholic Church, to sell to rich Americans
Eight years ago, Sixsmith was introduced to a woman called Philomena Lee. Philomena had recently revealed to her family that, in 1952, when she was young and unmarried, she gave birth to a son at a mother-baby home run by Roman Catholic nuns at Roscrea in north Tipperary.
Three years later, the nuns forced Philomena, who was still shunned by her family, to hand over the boy she named Anthony, so they could peddle him to a wealthy American couple from Missouri.
Judi, I can exclusively reveal, will portray Philomena, who went on to become a nurse, marry, and raise a family in England.
Stephen Frears, one of her favourite film-makers, will direct the picture in November on locations in London, Ireland and Washington DC, after the Oscar and Bafta-winning star has completed promotional work on the latest James Bond action-adventure Skyfall, directed by old friend Sam Mendes. (Judi, who plays Bond’s boss, M, is front and centre in Skyfall and dominates much of the storyline.)
Philomena, produced by Gaby Tana and Pathe UK, BBC Films and Baby Cow, will be a change of pace — although, in a way, it’s like a detective story, as Philomena joins forces with Sixsmith (to be portrayed by Steve Coogan) to hunt for the child who vanished from her life more than half a century before.
Favourites: Film-maker Stephen Frears, one of Dench's favourites, will direct the film
In Sixsmith’s fascinating account, The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee, published three years ago, he recounts how he helped uncover ‘a tale of the abuse of power, and how dogma and hypocrisy in high places can ruin the lives of so many people’.
Sixsmith wrote about Philomena in the Daily Mail and related how she went to a convent school when she was six and a half and left at 18, knowing nothing about the facts of life. When she fell pregnant, Philomena was ‘put away’ with the nuns at the home at Sean Ross Abbey, which closed long ago.
The Mother Superior threatened Philomena with damnation if she breathed a word of her ‘guilty secret’. She was so terrified she kept quiet for more than 50 years.
Sixsmith wrote in his book that Anthony had become a successful lawyer working for the Republican Party in America. His adoptive parents called him Michael.
The book — and many websites — recount what happened next but, for those of you who don’t know, it would be wrong of me to give any more away.
I can tell you, though, that if the screenplay by Coogan and Jeff Pope — and Frears’ direction — get it right, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
It’s a spectacular role for Judi. To have people still writing projects for you after a lifetime in showbusiness is marvellous.
After Philomena, she will prepare to work with Michael Grandage and Ben Whishaw on John Logan’s new play Peter And Alice, which will run at the Noel Coward Theatre for a season from March 9.
Spooks star Miranda Raison resists my interrogation
Will star: Miranda Raison, a regular on Spooks, will star with Dominic West and Laura Donnelly in Jez Butterworth's new play The River
Miranda Raison’s being evasive. She doesn’t mean to be, but having been a regular on Spooks, she’s rather good at it.
Miranda will star with Dominic West and Laura Donnelly in Jez Butterworth’s new play The River. Butterworth’s frequent collaborator Ian Rickson is directing the show for the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs from October 18.
Butterworth and Rickson are the men behind the smash hit Jerusalem, which starred Mark Rylance, and played to overflowing audiences in London and New York.
With The River, though, nobody’s giving much away. Miranda will allow that, as the Royal Court blurb puts it, the play features ‘a remote cabin on the cliffs, a man and a woman and a moonless night’.
There’s also something about someone taking their clothes off and diving into the freezing water.
Is she part of the couple Or is she on her own Does she take her clothes off Does she get wet I fire off these, and other questions.
‘I’m not being evasive . . . well actually I am. I can’t tell you. I can’t say anything more, so you might as well put the phone down on me now,’ she says sweetly. Though she does say there’s ‘every possibility’ of her getting a soaking, she won’t give a specific answer about whether the drama is contemporary or period.
Butterworth and Rickson decided they didn’t want to give the plot away. (The National Theatre’s taking a similar stance regarding Alan Bennett’s new play People, which is in rehearsal.)
Interestingly, there will be no advance tickets available for The River. They will go on sale on the day of performance — some online, some from the box office.
‘They want everybody to come into the theatre as open-minded as possible,’ Miranda says, mysteriously.
She’s done a lot of theatre lately, having played Anne Boleyn twice at Shakespeare’s Globe and appeared recently in The Physicists at the Donmar Warehouse. Around the time she was in Spooks, she was so afraid of missing out on telly work she turned down a lot of theatre. But she’s returned to the stage with gusto since her stint at the Globe.
It’s a shame that Barack Obama is too busy being the 44th President of the U.S. and running for re-election against that sad Book of Mormon dude Mitt Romney to come over and view his younger self in Rashid Razaq’s play The President And The Pakistani, which runs at the Waterloo East Theatre from October 3. Razaq based his drama — which stars Syrus Lowe as Barry Obama and Junaid Faiz as ‘Sal Maqbool’ — on a real-life life incident when Obama shared an apartment with an illegal Pakistani immigrant who liked to smoke weed. Rashid told me Obama had to make tough decisions when he opted for a future in politics.