By evil nuns.
And now, fifty years later, she tries to find out what happened to him.
There is a long stretch of film where her son's partner won't see her. Why? There could've been some quality emotional payoffs in there that are left untapped. The film avoids other interesting avenues of inquiry, as well: a young woman who doesn't want to know anything about her birth mother, a possible reunion between Philomena and other mothers whose babies were taken from them, the joys of adopted families. The film leaves any big ideas alone, really, and tells, instead, the story of this one character.
And Philomena is a character, make no mistake. She says things like "in England we have Indians instead of Mexicans and everybody loves curry." What? And she reads silly romance novels and relates the stories to her companions as though they're Flaubert. She sees the good in everyone and thinks everyone is out to help everyone else (she apparently did not go through TSA security upon arrival in the United States).
(definite Oscar nomination this year)
Judi Dench is wonderful. As much of a cartoon as this character might have been, Dench plays Philomena straight at every moment, never judging her, never commenting on her. It is a beautiful performance, quiet and sad and very, very lovely. I didn't always like this character, but Dench is stunning.