Steve Coogan and the eponymous subject of his film Philomena took in a very fancy Oscar campaign stop: the two have had an audience with Pope Francis. The Guardian's Catherine Shoard reported that Coogan, who stars in the film that he co-wrote, and Philomena Lee attended mass in St. Peter's Square and then had an audience with the Pope. Per Shoard, the film is set to screen in the Vatican this afternoon.
The audience with the Pope was fascinating for a couple reasons. For one, the film—which tells the story of Lee's search for her son who was sold into adoption by the nuns of the convent where she was sent as a pregnant teen— has been deemed "anti-Catholic" by some of its critics. The New York Post's Kyle Smith called it a "hateful and boring attack on Catholics," prompting a response from Lee herself. Taking issue with how one nun was portrayed, Deacon Nick Donnelly of Protect the Pope wrote: "Clearly Coogan made the decision that showing Sr. Hildegard helping mothers find their children would not sell his film, but catering to the liberal anti-Catholic prejudice would appeal to his audience."
But the Pope—who has garnered attention for at least seeming progressive—was willing to meet with Coogan and Lee, who were representing The Philomena Project, which seeks to call on the Irish government "to implement this adoption information and tracing legislation." Lee herself said, following the meeting: "I am honoured and delighted to have been in the presence of Pope Francis today. As the film portrays, I have always put great faith in the Church and the good will to put the wrongs of the past right. I hope and believe that his Holiness Pope Francis joins me in the fight to help the thousands of mothers and children who need closure on their own stories."
The second reason this is interesting is perhaps far sillier. Lee and Coogan are obviously promoting a very serious organization, but it's hard not to look at their trip to Italy as having something to do with the wily machinations of Harvey Weinstein, known for his gonzo Oscar campaign tactics. The film is a Weinstein Company production and the only TWC property to have cracked this year's Best Picture category. That's not to say that Harvey himself organized an audience with the Pope, but it certainly does get good press for the film, positioning it as a serious issue movie. The Vatican spokesman however—who Shoard reported had dismissed rumors of an audience—said that the Pope does not give out endorsements: "The Holy Father does not see films, and will not be seeing this one. It is also important to avoid using the Pope as part of a marketing strategy."
Lee has also visited D.C. and met with Senators Claire McCaskill and Chris Murphy.