The description for the film reads, in essence, “a reporter helps an old woman look for the son she was forced to give away for adoption.” This didn’t exactly sound exciting, so I put this film off for a while as I attended to other, more enticing films. I’m not saying that decision was a mistake, but only if I can say I was saving one of the best for last.
Philomena is about overcoming the past, focusing on the dynamics of religion in our lives and sharing another of the Catholic Church’s long list of modern day crimes. The title role is expertly played by Judy Densch, one of Britain’s shining cinematic stars, whose character is simple but earnest, and oh so human. She spends most of the movie with former Blair cabinet member and BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith, played stunningly by Steve Coogan, who has a filmography that does not necessarily fill one with confidence (Night at the Museum, Marmaduke, Around the World in 80 Days). Coogan, however, adapted the screenplay from Sixsmith’s true story novel, and both the writing and acting are superb.
The film is a drama, with an enticing mystery and the aforementioned skillful acting, but there are moments of levity which score a direct hit every time. I certainly laughed more at intentional jokes in this somber drama more than a few comedies I’ve seen recently, which shall remain nameless only because I dare not stir painful memories.
Philomena, on the other hand, examines the anguish of an old Irish woman (Dench) who is desperate to find her son after the passing of his 50th birthday, but by doing so disturbs so much pain and sorrow from her past. Without giving the plot away, Phil was a young teenage girl who enjoyed a brief affair which led to pregnancy, and her embarrassed father gave Phil to a convent wherein they were cruel to the girls in order to make them atone for their alleged sins. Philomena’s son was given away for adoption, and she kept that bottled up for nearly five decades after. She confesses this to her dauhter, who by chance runs into Sixsmith, who decides to do a human interest story on her while he recovers from his unceremonious firing from his previous job. Their path together to find the missing boys reveals layers of sin within the church as the mystery becomes more compelling with each step.
Coogan and Dench play so well off of each other, and director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) orchestrates the production smoothly and beautifully. Had I seen this movie earlier, there is a very real chance it would have cracked my top 3, but for appearances sake, I rank it at a very strong #4 for the year 2013. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a great story.