At 80, the real Philomena works for British film's success

Fri Jan 10, 2014 3:05pm EST
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - She is not an actress, but rather an 80-year-old Irish mother and former nurse, crisscrossing Los Angeles in the film awards season for screenings, interviews and even an afternoon tea party.

Philomena Lee takes the hullabaloo with good humor, knowing that the film she inspired - "Philomena" - not only has chances of winning awards but also helping women who, like her, had babies as teens and were forced to give them up.

"It is a challenge because I normally led a very quiet family life when all this happened," said Lee when she stopped by the Reuters newsroom this week in her whirlwind schedule.

But now she's fully aware of the power of her story on film.

"I have brought something out that was buried for so long," said Lee, who now lives outside London. "And a lot of women like myself just could not tell the story because you were made to feel so bad about having a baby out of marriage."

Directed by Britain's Stephen Frears and co-written by comedic actor Steve Coogan, "Philomena" is up for a Golden Globe on Sunday for best motion picture drama. Judi Dench, who plays Lee, is a front-runner to win best actress in a drama, while Coogan and Jeff Pope are competing for best adapted screenplay.

"Philomena" also received four nominations this week for Britain's top film honors, the BAFTAs. And its box office performance, $45 million worldwide, is considered buoyant for a film of its modest size.

The Weinstein Company, run by impresario Harvey Weinstein and known for its aggressive promotion of films in awards season, has organized a full slate of events this week for "Philomena," as the race for the Oscars on March 2 heats up around the Globes.   Continued...

Director Stephen Frears (L) poses with actors Judi Dench and Steve Coogan (R) during a photocall for the movie "Philomena" during the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice in this August 31, 2013, file photo. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/Files