Starring Judi Dench as Philomena Lee and Steve Coogan as Sixsmith, the film follows the pair as they seek to track down the child that was taken from her in an Irish convent decades earlier. Philomena, a devout Catholic, had kept the story secret for nearly fifty years because of the shame she felt, but Sixsmith is convinced it would make a fascinating story to reignite his journalistic career.
Philomena is not just a about a mother losing her son, but a tale of corruption, deceit and morality. Frears and Coogan (who co-wrote the screenplay) should be praised for not tip-toeing around the issue surrounding Catholicism and the matter of profiting from forced adoptions. Philomena, both the film itself and Dench’s character, highlight the good and bad of the situation. The despicable behaviour of Irish nuns is deplorable, but Philomena’s ability to forgive those who wronged her is not just commendable, but offers as inspiration to us all.
The strength of the story is compounded by two power-house performances from Dench and Coogan. Sixsmith, who has just lost his job and looking for his next big break, initially sees the Irish woman’s tale as just another story to sell. As the film develops, the emotional connection between the pair grows rapidly, with the change in Sixsmith evident. The moral dilemma for the journalist is who did the story really belong to: Philomena, or the general public?
The chemistry between the pair was so easy and believable. Through Philomena’s car passenger mannerisms, to her general fussy behaviour, it will be hard not to think of an elderly relative whilst watching Dench’s performance. Her honest portrayal of a woman battling with the past is inspiring, but she still deploys such a charming, humour-filled approach that makes Philomena so endearing to the audience. What we must not forget in all of this praise for Dench is Coogan’s own performance. In what is not his natural environment, the funny man gives a career best display that holds its own against the Oscar winning actress. Known for his comedic skills, Coogan delivers a much more somber performance, that highlights the moral dilemmas faced by journalists on a daily basis.
It would be a crying shame if such a beautifully made film was not given the recognition it deserved during awards season. Dench’s performance is without doubt worthy of an Oscar consideration, but if Coogan does not gain one for his own performance, the strength of the movies writing should see him bidding for glory come March 2nd.
Philomena is one of the strongest films of 2013. Only 98 minutes long, the film fits in so much, so effortlessly, and with such a thorough nature, that you will wonder where time has gone.