Steve Coogan Up For Philomena

With Judi Dench for Stephen Frears

Stephen Frears is looking to bounce back from the disappointment of Lay The Favorite with a couple of new projects. He’s putting the finishing touches to Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight and has also made a deal to direct emotional mother / son tale Philomena, which will star Steve Coogan and Judi Dench.

The script, which Coogan co-wrote with Jeff Pope, adapts Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son And A 50 Year Search.

It’s the tragic true story of how Lee became pregnant in 1950s Ireland and ended up giving birth at Sean Ross Abbey, a Catholic home for unmarried mothers in Tipperary. Three years into their life together, the nuns made her give the child up for adoption and he was sent to America. She was also forced to sign a pledge that she would never seek to find out what happened to him.

Lee moved to England and ended up married with a family, but never forgot her firstborn. In 2004, after meeting Sixsmith, they began a quest to track him down. The search led to America, where the grown man – now named Michael Hess, had become a closeted gay lawyer and Republican politician in the 1980s.

Since contracting AIDS, he’d tried to find his birth mother, even visiting the convent to plead for information about her identity, a request that was refused. "The film is a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy,” says Coogan in a statement picked up by Variety. “It's about two very different people, at different stages of their lives, who help each other and show that there is laughter even in the darkest places."

Frears will start shooting next month in London, Northern Ireland and Washington, DC.