Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judy Dench, Steve Coogan
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: November 1st
Based on the article, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, this is the story of a retired Irish nurse who is attempting to find her son. As a victim of Ireland’s shameful Magdalene Laundries Philomena’s son was sold to an American couple by nuns. With the help of journalist and lapsed Catholic Martin Sixsmith, the pair embark on an unlikely road trip to locate the child.
The public Steve Coogan has of late become something of a crusader. A vocal supporter of the Leveson Inquiry, this change of public face has been accompanied by an attempt to push his abilities creatively. Only the harshest—and to mention incorrect—of critics would have even accused him of coasting with Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. It is good news then this drive has yielded another success—we’ll forgive the mishap that was The Look of Love.
Philomena is the type of film that’s hard to imagine anyone hating, except maybe supporters of the Magdalen laundries but you can ignore them, they’ll be dead soon with any luck. By repositioning the events of Sixsmith’s article into flashback, the film instead posits our two leads at the beginning of the writing of the article and allows for the drama between them to play out instead. The humour and the tension arising from their attempts to continually be polite, cordial and decent to one another despite being complete strangers.
A lot of the credit though lies with Judi Dench; despite her advanced years she skips through the film with the energy of someone a third of her age. Raising howls of laughter one moment, she is just as capable of having you shed a tear the next. She may well be capable of this sort of thing in her sleep but that hasn’t stopped her having a full swing at it and as you would expect from someone with her ancestry, the accent is spot on as well. It’s also good to see Stephen Frears and her working so well, the last time they tried something together we had the instantly forgettable Mrs Henderson Presents.
In short the film is somewhat of an oddly charming affair. A script that will constantly elude your expectations and performances that easily carry the subject matter with dignity. The serendipitous release date should not go by unmentioned either. 2013 finally saw the Irish government take responsibility for its role in the Magdalene Laundries and the surviving victims will be soon be receiving financial compensation. Philomena is a fitting testament to the victims; a reassertion of the fact that faith does not free you of bad morals or that unforgivable acts should tar and feather the work of an entire institution.