If Philomena does not result in an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for Judi Dench, then it is an utter crime. Dench portrays the title character, a woman of later years who awakes one day and can’t live with what haunts her anymore. As a young woman, she was abandoned by her family at an Irish convent for being pregnant from a pre-marital affair. Promptly inserted into a slave labor-like world, it got worse when one day a family arrived and took her child away.
The film begins with Dench telling her daughter a secret that had spent six decades in hiding. Philomena has decided that it is time to find her son, no matter what it takes.
Simultaneously we meet Steve Coogan’s Martin Sixsmith, a recently disgraced PR person associated with the British government who seeks to go back to a quieter life as a writer. When no one shows any interest in his book of Russian history, he is approached at a party by Philomena’s daughter and our journey to find her son begins.
Coogan not only stars, but he wrote the compelling script with Jeff Pope, based on the book by the real Sixsmith, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. The true story is astounding and is the perfect vehicle for Dench to further show why we adore her so much.
As even teased in the Philomena trailer, Dench plays Philomena as a woman who has been scorned by life, but still has absolute faith in God and the goodness in people’s hearts. She is a simple woman, whose life has been more than fulfilled by raising her daughter and happy memories of her marriage to her late husband. In meeting Sixsmith, she finds not necessarily a compatriot, but actually in more ways an adversary. Yet, as their journey takes them from Ireland to London to America, the two grow close in ways that feel real, powerful and sincerely profound.
Coogan and Dench are a match made in heaven and it is the main reason to take in this must-see film. The pair have an ebb and flow that is as natural as can be, and even though they may be from different walks of life, they compliment each other brilliantly, which is a tribute to Coogan’s script and his chemistry with Dench.
Dench gives us a character unlike any she’s played before. She is a woman who has never had the finer things in life, so it is a complete joy to witness her enjoying complimentary champagne on a plane, the make-your-own omelet bar at a U.S. hotel and her eagerness to watch a pay-per-view movie starring Martin Lawrence as a woman in a fat suit!
Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) directs Philomena with such a care and love that the viewer cannot help but completely fall in love with all of the characters. There is heartbreak and hope and even a few moments of hilarity in a film that our Philomena review finds is about as perfect as can be.