Review: Philomena

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