Weepies can be risky territory. Get them wrong and you’ve made bad TV, but get them right and the rewards are yours for the taking. All of which makes Philomena a particularly brave move for Steve Coogan. Never the most natural of straight-men, he gives his most dignified performance yet, in a film he co-scripted, co-produced and generally shepherded to the screen.
Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) is a disgraced political journalist who meets Irish pensioner Philomena (Dench) in order to write a human-interest story on the child she was forced to give away as a young, “shamed” woman in the care of Roman Catholic nuns. Mostly this involves a Rain Man-ish trip across Ireland and America, with Sixsmith’s diffidence and Philomena’s genial dizziness leading to moments both moving and amusing. “What if he’s a drug addict?” asks the devout Philomena, anxiously. “Or obese?”
Although based on Sixsmith’s true story, the plot points feels a touch too neat, too telegraphed to have come from non-fiction. However, Dench’s charm and Coogan’s restraint keep the characters engaging and director Stephen Frears summons real power in the film’s closing scenes, a quiet condemnation of religious certainty.
It’s a softer proposition than something like The Magdalene Sisters– and perhaps too soft for Partridge fans – a fuddy-duddy, buddy-buddy flick that makes up in sweetness what it lacks in surprise. But it would take a heart of stone not to be moved by Philomena’s plight, and only a fool would bet against a Dench nomination come awards season.
‘Philomena’ Movie Times