Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Based on: Martin Sixsmith‘s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham, Michelle Fairley, Anna Maxwell Martin
Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is a recently unemployed journalist, looking for a new challenge. When he is approached to write about the story of Philomena (Judi Dench), he is nevertheless hesitant. Philomena, now an old woman, had a child at a very young age (Sophie Kennedy Clark). That son was given away against her will by the nuns she lived with and worked for. And all of Philomena’s attempts to find him again were stonewalled. Since Martin can’t find a better story, he goes along with this one and finds himself very intrigued after a short while.
Philomena’s story is worth telling and the movie is engaging but I did think that it was missing a bit impact. Nevertheless it’s a sweet film with a nice sense of humor and a touching story.
I guess I don’t have to talk about how wonderful Judi Dench is but I will anyway. Because she is that amazing. Her Philomena goes from deeply wounded to giggling school girl, from desperation to a fierce hope within beats and it always feels organic, giving Philomena a wonderful depth. Compared to Judi Dench, Steve Coogan does pale a bit (and let’s face it – there are barely any actors who wouldn’t). But I liked his Martin and when he finally has his meltdown and screams all his anger at the nuns, I related so much to him.
I loved the dynamic that developed between the two. Philomena for all her apparent meekness and her inability to confront the nuns has no problem holding her ground against Martin and even telling him off. People have tried to speak for her her entire life and she won’t have it from Martin. Not anymore. And Martin who moves from condescendingly smiling about Philomena to completely respecting and maybe even loving her a little. Beautifully done.
But maybe because the relationship between the two of them was so vibrant and maybe because it was such a big part of the film, the actual story seemed to take a backseat at times, especially when the film moved away from the flashbacks. Young Philomena (also, by the way, wonderfully portrayed by Sophie Kennedy Clark) got to show the injustice of the situation. Old Philomena was preoccupied with other things. And while that may be rather accurate – old Philomena probably was more interested in a solution and clearing things up than righting a wrong – I felt that it still lacked in the film.
Other than that (and the fact that Philomena showed so little interest for her friend’s child when she finally found her – did not compute in my head) I really loved the film. Also, I want Judi Dench to tell me about the maid and the stable boy all the fucking time.
Summarizing: Touching and entertaining – the perfect combination.