philomena poster 202x300 - Philomena2013 is the year of the “based on a true story” movie. The latest addition to the group is Philomena a tragicomic tale from director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons.) It stars the ever wonderful Judi Dench in what is turning out to be a much nominated role. She plays Philomena, an old Irish woman whose life has been colored by the theft of her adorable little son Anthony back when she was an unwed teenage mum sent to live in a convent. She has kept the story secret for decades, but realizing that it would be her son’s 50th birthday, she decides to come clean to her daughter. The daughter thinks the story should be told, so she introduces her mom to a journalist she met at a party. And the rest is essentially a very engaging odd couple road trip in search of the son.

Steve Coogan (What Maisie Knew, In the Loop) plays the real life BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith. As the film opens he has been involved in some kind of scandal and has been forced to resign from his post as a government adviser, so he is entirely at loose ends. Not that someone of his caliber does “human interest” stories, but it beats the Russian history research he was planning to do. However, the contrast between the people he’s usually been involved with and Philomena could not be more stark. dench mmmain 300x198 - PhilomenaShe is very provincial, somewhat dotty and deeply religious. He on the other hand is an Oxford educated, worldly ex-alter boy atheist. So their conversations are not exactly scintillating, though some are very funny. But as the story of Philomena’s life and that of her son unfolds, Martin cannot help but be moved to rail at the injustice done to her. And the more they dig, the less the story is a simple “human interest” piece.

To describe the details of the plot would deny viewers the pleasures of discovery in this well told true story. Steve Coogan cowrote what is by turns a tragic and very funny script. And he and Judi Dench play off each other brilliantly. (Coogan has said that he wrote the script with Dench in mind.) Philomena is a small film, and most of the scenes involve these two traveling to the convent, to the US, and then full circle to where they began. It is a great buddy film and I thoroughly recommend it — maybe not to people who are looking for action and adventure, but those who like good characters, wonderful acting, and an involving story should be quite pleased. You might want to bring some tissues.

And one word of warning: the Catholic Church does not come off well.



  1. Hannah Buchdahl, December 14, 2013:

    Mainstream Chick concurs that Philomena is a good little flick with an appeal that should extend beyond the art house crowd. I, for one, love human interest stories, so I got a kick out of the jaded journalist Sixpence struggling with himself to relate to Philomena and her story. The movie as a whole falls a tad flat, but the lead performances are excellent.

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