Based on a true story, adapted from the non-fiction book by Martin Sixsmith, Philomena is a film that will please a lot of viewers, while also stirring up some feelings of rage as the story unfolds.
Steve Coogan plays Sixsmith, a political journalist who finds himself on a bit of an unplanned hiatus from what was once a fine career. He plans to write a book, something on Russian history, and is introduced to a woman named Philomena Lee (Judi Dench). Philomena grew up in a convent for many of her childhood years, and when she gave birth to a baby boy her child was taken away from her one day and given up for adoption without her consent. It’s a human interest story, and one that initially doesn’t interest Sixsmith, but the more he considers it the more it seems like it could be just what he needs. As he sets out to help Philomena track down her son he starts to enjoy her company, and hopes that the resolution of the story is a good one. He also, however, keeps putting the story first, often not considering just how Philomena might be struggling to take in, and adapt to, the whole situation.
Directed by Stephen Frears, this really is a little gem of a film. Yes, it’s all quite safe and predictable, for the most part, but it’s put together well and benefits immensely from two great lead performances. Coogan, always so great at being someone who likes to seem slightly more important than others around him, is on fine form, while Judi Dench serves up a performance that reminds viewers of why she’s such a treasure. Philomena is a simple Irish woman, but she’s not an idiot, as she reminds people on a number of occasions. Anna Maxwell Martin and Mare Winningham are both good in supporting roles, Barbara Jefford and Ruth McCabe do well as unhelpful nuns, to put it mildly, and Peter Hermann, Sean Mahon and Michelle Fairley are amongst others all doing good work to help flesh out the story.
Coogan also helped to write the script with Jeff Pope, and the two men seem to have done a cracking job of adapting Martin Sixsmith’s book into a great piece of cinema. The big plus is the fact that the film isn’t JUST about Philomena’s search for her son. It’s about media manipulation, and those times when the end can justify the means.
There’s a lot to discuss and debate when Philomena ends, and many will feel angry at some of the main aspects, which is as it should be. Despite being a “little” film, this ends up having a lot more to it than most of the major titles that managed to edge ahead of it during the main awards season, and it’s well worth your time.
DIRECTOR: STEPHEN FREARS
WRITER: STEVE COOGAN, JEFF POPE, BASED ON THE BOOK “THE LOST CHILD OF PHILOMENA LEE” BY MARTIN SIXSMITH
STARS: STEVE COOGAN, JUDI DENCH, ANNA MAXWELL MARTIN, MARE WINNINGHAM, PETER HERMANN, SEAN MAHON, MICHELLE FAIRLEY, BARBARA JEFFORD, RUTH MCCABE
RUNTIME: 98 MINS APPROX