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‘Philomena’ film is ‘not an attack on the Church at all’ says Coogan

Dame Judi Dench with Philomena Lee (PA)

Actor Steve Coogan, has said that his film ‘Philomena’ is not meant to be “an attack on the Church at all.”

The film released earlier this month, about a pregnant woman and her tragic episode in an Irish convent, was co-written by the Alan Partridge star who was raised a Catholic.

Although Coogan’s character, Martin, is highly critical of the Church throughout the film, in an interview with the Catholic Herald this week, Coogan insists: “Look, I was brought up Catholic myself, and I didn’t want it to be an attack on the Church at all. I wanted it to be a conversation between two people about how we live our lives and what our world views are. These days I belong to the secular gang. I suppose I’m a lapsed Catholic, which they say are the worst kind. But they also say ‘once a Catholic always a Catholic’, and I think there’s some truth in that, too.”

He continued: “Meanwhile, I have people in my life who are Catholic and I respect them and I love them and the last thing I want it to denigrate their faith. And that’s why, when I was writing the screenplay, I made sure
that at the end of the film neither of the two characters changes their own beliefs, but they do each come to respect the other’s.”

Steve Coogan said that Philomena, which is based on a true story, was about his affection for the real-life Philomena and for the women like her. “I know lots of elderly Irish ladies like Philomena. I’m half-Irish myself, and Philomena is the same age as my mother, so I was brought up around them. And I wanted to use her in this film to challenge the notion that because you have an intellect, that means you’ve got all the answers.
“Martin went to Oxford and has all the education and all of that, but he’s also very cynical and that can give you a fairly bleak view of the world around you. And there are other people around who are what you might call ‘simple people’, in that they’re not sophisticated and they’re not doing anything obviously remarkable, but they lead lives of faith and of quiet dignity. And at the end these people are as every bit as intuitive and as enlightened as all the people with the Oxford education – and often smarter when it comes to humanity, too. I wanted to honour that.”

You can read the full interview by Gabrielle Donnelly with Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in tomorrow’s Catholic Herald.