“Philomena” is based on the true story of one woman’s quest to find the son who was taken from her when she was a young, unwed mother. Dame Judi Dench, best known for her Oscar winning eight minutes in “Shakespeare in Love” and as 007’s assistant, M, in the last seven Bond movies, shines in an outstanding performance as Philomena Lee.
“Philomena” is adapted from the book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, by British journalist Martin Sixsmith. In the film, Martin is played by British comedic actor Steve Coogan (“Tropic Thunder”), who also co-wrote the script and produced the film. Martin has hit a bit of a brick wall in his career and decides he’s going to write a “human interest” story, which he normally dislikes. But the untold story of the gaping hole in Philomena’s life perks his interest.
50 years ago, as a naive teenager living with her family in Ireland, Philomena became pregnant. She was sent by her embarrassed Catholic family to live in a convent with other pregnant girls, where she gave birth to a boy she named Anthony. Philomena was forced to work for the nuns for several years, and like the other young mothers, was only able to see her boy for an hour a day. And one day her greatest fears were realized, as Anthony was sold by the nuns to a couple for adoption. So, for the last half-century, Philomena has been keeping this secret and wondering where her son is and if he remembers her.
In their mission to locate Anthony, Martin takes Philomena to Washington, DC. There they will not only find out the truth about Anthony but discover much more about themselves and each other.
“Philomena” is believable from start to finish. It’s one of those hidden gems that you want to hold onto and not let go of for as long as you can. Director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) goes in all the right
directions with the top-notch script by Coogan and Jeff Pope that includes a balance of sharp, funny dialogue and touching, emotional moments.
Dench and Coogan complement each other perfectly and are a top on-screen “couple” of the 2013. They have incredible chemistry together, equally impressive in both the light and dramatic scenes. Philomena is a classic Dench role: forceful yet reserved. A woman in tremendous emotional pain, yet kind and patient with everyone. But she’s also determined to get answers. And that’s what Martin does for a living. What he doesn’t realize is that deep down, he’s also yearning to find someone to truly care about and connect with. The journey these two take together
is not just about looking for someone from the past, but discovering a new purpose in their present lives.
“Philomena” is both heartwarming and heartbreaking; depressing yet uplifting. Credit Frears for not pulling any punches. No gimmicks, no twists. The pace is intentionally slow at times and some of the situations can be anticipated in advance. But when you’ve got two great performances leading the way on such a memorable journey you can overlook a few missteps.
As they’ve done in the past, the Weinstein Company challenged “Philomena”‘s original MPAA R-rating (for a couple of F-bombs) and won. It’s rated PG-13 for the brief strong language, some mature subject matter and adult references and is appropriate for teens and up.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Philomena” gets a B+.