Film Review: Searching for Philomena's son

28 March 2014 - 02:02 By Tymon Smith
ODD COUPLE: Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in 'Philomena'
ODD COUPLE: Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in 'Philomena'

So begins a softly comic, sad and touching road trip undertaken by this pair of almost complete opposites that takes them from Ireland to America and back again

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

It starts off looking like the kind of film that will spend four months on screens at Cinema Nouveau - it's British, stars Judi Dench and comedian Steve Coogan, and has the kind of very English gentle humour that Nouveau audiences of a certain age can't help falling for. However, there's much more to Stephen Frears' adaptation of a true story told by journalist and one-time political spin doctor Martin Sixsmith than you might think.

Written by Coogan and Jeff Pope, the film begins with the world-weary, recently sacked Sixsmith at a loss as to whether or not to go back to being a journalist after his too public exit from the world of politics. Sixsmith is your typical Oxford educated, cynical type, and Coogan uses his very particular brand of jadedness to great effect in his performance.

When a young woman approaches him with a human interest story about her mother, Philomena (Dench), who has searched for decades for a child taken from her and given up for adoption by Irish nuns 40 years ago, Sixsmith decides to write an article about her.

So begins a softly comic, sad and touching road trip undertaken by this pair of almost complete opposites that takes them from Ireland to America and back again. A Catholic, Philomena has lived her life believing that the nuns who forced her to give up her son were executing a fit punishment for the sin she committed by having a child out of wedlock, a guilt that Sixsmith, as a determined atheist, finds infuriating. When he tracks down her son, only to find that he died a decade before, Philomena is devastated but decides to continue her journey to find out as much as she can about the man her child became.

Coogan and Pope's script contains the sentimentality that you would expect in such a story but avoids drowning in schmaltz, thanks to strong performances from Dench and Coogan.

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