Movie Review #716


BBC Films
Baby Cow Productions
British Film Institute (BFI)
Magnolia Mae Films

Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation – The Weinstein Company
Country: UK – USA – France
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Stephen Frears. Produced by Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward, and Gabrielle Tana. Screenplay: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope. Book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”: Martin Sixsmith.

Rated PG-13 on appeal – mature themes; infrequent, strong profanity. Runs 1 hour, 38 minutes. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2013; at Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 6, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 12, 2013; at Hawaii Film Festival on October 14, 2013; at BFI London Film Festival on October 16, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 17, 2013; and at Austin Film Festival on October 24, 2013. Limited release in the USA on November 22, 2013. Wide release in the UK on November 1, 2013; in the USA on November 27, 2013; and in France on January 8, 2014.

Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, and Michelle Fairley. Also starring Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Ruth McCabe, Peter Hermann, Sean Mahon, and Anna Maxwell Martin.

In her younger years, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) was separated from her young son by an Irish convent. This was kept a secret only she and the nuns knew for the longest time. Fifty years later, she wishes to find her son. She is assisted by an ex-reporter for channel 10 news (Steve Coogan); he also reported for, as she puts it, “that other job.” But this is only to figure out that her son has been dead for years.

I’ll spoil no more than that of “Philomena”. From the very beginning of the movie, I was reminded of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. This is a movie about a journalist teaming up with a disturbed woman to investigate a crime he will report on. Which I’m sure is a common premise, but “Philomena” earns the comparison. As if the true story it narrates isn’t horrifying enough, what director Stephen Frears gives us to chew on is absolutely disturbing.

That is why I’m a bit puzzled as to why on earth this was actually a dramedy. It works, but given the plot, any notion of comedy doesn’t make sense, logically. Flashbacks pervade the movie to illustrate Philomena’s haunted past. So does spirited conversation between the two leads (her and the reporter). The sudden shifts from the dismal into the charming feel uneven for a little while, but to much surprise, the script overall seems to pull it off rather masterfully. Philomena’s past (which she has kept secret for several decades) affects the way she behaves around people. Much to our enjoyment, she’s actually more whimsical and full of life than the average old lady.

“Philomena” is a slow moving but gripping and entirely rewarding movie. Steve Coogan’s performance is powerful; Dench’s, an absolute tour de force. Watch her conquer the whole movie, as the disturbed woman who cannot forget her past, as well as the spirited chatterbox who details the book she’s reading ever so thoroughly to someone who just doesn’t care. It definitely is flawed. But god do I hate to write something so meaningless about “Philomena” as much as you hate to read it. It’s like saying, “I looked for a flaw and, as you might guess, I found one.” There’s only one significant flaw that actually gets in the way of “Philomena”, and I’ve already mentioned that one. With the pathos that glows throughout the movie, it definitely COULD have been a great deal worse.

Tomorrow’s Review




11 thoughts on “Philomena


      I didn’t feel like I was sticking up for Catholicism. I felt like I was actually condemning it more, since the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Catholics is those horrible nuns and all the holy wars and whatnot. This was especially so at the end, when Judi Dench kind of “told off” the nun who’d shot that huge hole through her life. I didn’t think she was “being a Catholic” there, so much as she was doing the right thing (and a very difficult thing), and that’s part of why the movie felt so strong to me at times.

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