UK Release Date: 1st November 2013
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Synopsis: A lady who had a son taken away from her at birth by Irish nuns attempts to trace him fifty years later, with the help of a disgraced political spin doctor looking for a new story to write.
There has been an enormous amount of buzz around Philomena amongst critics. The Guardian’s Catherine Shoard gave the film a glowing five-star review, saying that it’s “one of those unusual movies it’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying”. There is even talk that it might be the big British contender at the 2014 Oscars. And whilst Philomena is undoubtedly a witty two-hander with an awful lot of charm, it’s mostly just a bit of fluff.
Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) confides in her daughter that she gave birth to a child 50 years ago when she was at a convent in Ireland and that she was forced to give up the baby. Her daughter later meets journalist and former spin doctor Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) at a party and pitches her mother’s story. Initially scornful of “human interest” stories, Martin eventually comes round and helps Philomena to trace her son.
Throughout the time you spend with this film, it becomes clear that Catherine Shoard was right. It’s impossible not to enjoy Philomena. It’s a delightfully British, wonderfully witty and effortlessly charming tale from start to finish, helped by a titanic performance from national treasure Judi Dench, who balances comedy and heartbreak as only a true seasoned pro can.
Equally impressive is Steve Coogan, who wisely chooses to underplay his character so that the audience never loses sight of who this story is about. This is Philomena’s journey and it is her we’re supposed to like. Martin Sixsmith, as portrayed by Coogan, is inherently unlikeable, proving prickly and rude, which enables Philomena to shine all the more. It’s a masterful performance deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nod that it’s destined not to receive. There’s always the BAFTAs though.
The problem with Philomena though is that it never has the dramatic heft and emotional punch that its performances promise. As the revelations mount up towards the end, they completely fail to elicit the emotional reaction they clearly desire. Whether this is a weakness of script or direction is unclear, but there wasn’t a damp eye in the house.
That said, Philomena is still a solid film and one that’s well worth seeing. It’s warm, funny and has appeal for just about anyone.
Pop or Poop?
Led by two stunning performances, Philomena is certainly a solid film that appeals to the growing grey market for cinema.
Unfortunately though, it lacks the emotional punch that it promises and doesn’t leave much behind in the mind after the credits roll.
That said, there’s plenty of chuckles to be had and it’s well worth seeing just for the remarkable acting on display.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.