Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Sean Mahon, Simone Lahbib, Neve Gachev, Charlie Murphy, Charles Edwards, Xavier Atkins
RunTime: 1 hr 34 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Some Sexual References)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://philomenamovie.com
Opening Day: 13 February 2014
Synopsis: Philomena is the true story of one mother’s search for her lost son. Falling pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena was sent to the convent of Roscrea to be looked after as a “fallen woman”. When her baby was only a toddler, he was taken away by the nuns for adoption in America. Philomena spent the next fifty years searching for him in vain. Then she met Martin Sixsmith, a world-weary political journalist who happened to be intrigued by her story. Together they set off for America on a journey that would not only reveal the extraordinary story of Philomena’s son, but also create an unexpectedly close bond between them. The film is a compelling narrative of human love and loss and ultimately celebrates life. It is both funny and sad and concerns two very different people, at different stages of their lives, who help each other and show that there is laughter even in the darkest places. The book “The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee” was published in 2009. It acted as a catalyst for thousands of adopted Irish children and their ‘shamed’ mothers to come forward to tell their stories. Many are still searching for their lost families.
One does not simply have qualms about movies starring Judi Dench. The 79 year old English actress has never disappointed, impressing critics time after time in works like Pride and Prejudice (2005), Notes on a Scandal (2006) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012). Let’s not forgetting her memorable turn as M in the James Bond series, and her award winning performance as Queen Elizabeth I in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love. Yup, the eight minute screen time got her a Best Supporting Actress award. Heck, she was also adorable voicing a cow in Disney’s overlooked animation Home on a Range (2004). Her latest portrayal of a woman who spent 50 years searching for her long lost son is no less remarkable.
In this comedy drama directed by Stephen Frears (Mrs Henderson Presents, The Queen), Dench’s Philomena Lee teams up with a world weary political journalist Martin Sixsmith (played by the underrated Steve Coogan) to find her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.
You know how some films rely on heavy special effects to lure you in the cinema. Or what about those who feature lots of screaming and crying (read: melodrama) to “move” you to tears? Then there are movies which have nothing but empty antics like explosions, larger than life caricatures and slapstick sidekicks to redeem themselves. This 98 minute movie does not employ any of those tactics to wow its audience. The cinematography, editing and pacing is nothing to shout about, and the viewing experience seems to be merely a journey with two people finding someone, and getting to know each other better.
That’s what works for this piece of gem – the storytelling is personal, and you feel like you are right there with the duo, chatting about your everyday happenings. You don’t feel that Dench and Coogan are portraying impossibly unreachable characters. They talk about the books they love and talk about what family means. In one scene, Dench’s Philomena perks up when she hears that the drinks on the plane are free, making us less guilty of our “kiasu” selves.
Based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Sixsmith, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope’s understated but affecting adapted screenplay is nominated for an Oscar at the upcoming Academy Awards. Other nominations include Best Actress for Dench (but of course), Best Original Score for Alexander Desplat’s harmoniously pleasing composition and Best Picture. The film has also gathered prizes and nominations from other major festivals and awards like Venice International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, the Golden Globes and the BAFTA Awards.
Dench and Coogan weren’t the most likely screen pairing to hit it off, but the result under the masterful direction of Frears is a touching display of human emotions. The banter between the two is moving yet humorous. The more serious discussions are lighthearted yet poignant. Does Philomena find her son at the end of the film? Google will tell you that, but what you’d be missing if you don’t watch the film is the affecting human drama between two people, each with a purpose to achieve.
(Judi Dench and Steve Coogan deliver moving performances, which are perfect for this affectingly simple human drama)
Review by John Li