Reviews - Major Releases


Film Review: Philomena

Director Stephen Frears delivers one of his best films since The Queen with this
affecting, witty drama starring Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, based on the true story of an Irish girl placed in a convent for fallen women, who 50 years later seeks her son who was sold into adoption.

Nov 20, 2013

-By Wendy R. Weinstein


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1389658-Philomena_Review_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

When unemployed former BBC correspondent and Labour spin doctor Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is asked to take on the story of an Irish Catholic woman whose child was sent away by nuns 50 years ago, he answers, “That’s what they call a human-interest story; I don’t do those.” Human-interest stories, he drily explains, are about weak-minded, vulnerable people for weak-minded, vulnerable people. Director Stephen Frears’ Philomena (written by Coogan and Jeff Pope, based on Sixsmith’s nonfiction account of his and Philomena’s search for her lost son) relishes turning Martin’s smug assessment on its ear. Philomena is as much a sharp exploration of class, sexuality, faith and relationships as it is a wittily written, devastating account of the barbaric treatment of unwed mothers in Ireland as recently as the 1950s, with a plum role for the remarkable Judi Dench.

Dench never simplifies Philomena’s salt-of-the-earthiness. She’s trusting and unworldly, unlike the Oxford-educated, jaded Martin, but never simple. In a very funny and revealing early scene, Philomena fails to get one of Martin’s sarcastic quips, but when her daughter points it out to her, she laughs automatically at his next comment, which is not a joke. It soon becomes clear, however, that Philomena’s good nature and kindness serve her better than Martin’s cynicism and superciliousness. But it takes a team, and a crack reporter like Sixsmith, to uncover the fate of Philomena’s son, Anthony, purposefully hidden by the sisters of the convent of Roscrea in Ireland (whom Martin calls “The Sisters of Little Mercy”), where a teenage Philomena was left by her family to give birth to a baby boy, slave away in their laundries for three years “to pay her debt,” only to watch her little boy drive away with his adoptive parents, without even getting a chance to say goodbye. The early scenes in the convent, with a glowing Sophie Kennedy Clark as the young Philomena, recall a slightly less cruel version of The Magdalene Sisters (which is facetiously referred to by Martin at one point), and anchor the loving bond between Philomena and her son.

Framed within a very odd-couple road movie, Philomena and Martin set out in his BMW to Roscrea to learn of Anthony’s whereabouts, or at the very least his new name, only to be told that the records were burned in “the great fire.” Conveniently, however, the nuns had preserved Philomena’s written agreement to relinquish all rights to her son. A devout Roman Catholic who was educated at a convent school, Philomena believed she had sinned when she succumbed to the charms of a young man she met at a county fair (artfully shown in golden-hued flashbacks), even though as a teen she had no idea where babies came from, but after keeping her painful secret for 50 years, she realizes she must learn what has become of her boy. On their travels, which take them to Washington, DC, and back full-circle to the Irish abbey, there’s plenty of time for Martin, a non-believing, former Roman Catholic, to question Philomena’s belief in God and the Church, her forbearance with the nuns and her delight in simple things: romance novels, breakfast buffets, American television.

Coogan delivers his marvelous lines with the comic timing he’s known for, while expressing Martin’s own existential crisis. He’s not afraid of showing Martin’s snobbery to a waiter or Philomena, and his eventual compassion, though expected, is still touching. The film is especially strong in portraying the sometimes devil’s bargain of journalism. To tell more of the plot (though it is in the record) would detract from the pleasures of this movie, but suffice it to say that Anthony’s career crossed paths with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. Philomena is an amazing story, movingly told, which skirts sentimentality and rings true.


Film Review: Philomena

Director Stephen Frears delivers one of his best films since The Queen with this
affecting, witty drama starring Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, based on the true story of an Irish girl placed in a convent for fallen women, who 50 years later seeks her son who was sold into adoption.

Nov 20, 2013

-By Wendy R. Weinstein


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1389658-Philomena_Review_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

When unemployed former BBC correspondent and Labour spin doctor Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is asked to take on the story of an Irish Catholic woman whose child was sent away by nuns 50 years ago, he answers, “That’s what they call a human-interest story; I don’t do those.” Human-interest stories, he drily explains, are about weak-minded, vulnerable people for weak-minded, vulnerable people. Director Stephen Frears’ Philomena (written by Coogan and Jeff Pope, based on Sixsmith’s nonfiction account of his and Philomena’s search for her lost son) relishes turning Martin’s smug assessment on its ear. Philomena is as much a sharp exploration of class, sexuality, faith and relationships as it is a wittily written, devastating account of the barbaric treatment of unwed mothers in Ireland as recently as the 1950s, with a plum role for the remarkable Judi Dench.

Dench never simplifies Philomena’s salt-of-the-earthiness. She’s trusting and unworldly, unlike the Oxford-educated, jaded Martin, but never simple. In a very funny and revealing early scene, Philomena fails to get one of Martin’s sarcastic quips, but when her daughter points it out to her, she laughs automatically at his next comment, which is not a joke. It soon becomes clear, however, that Philomena’s good nature and kindness serve her better than Martin’s cynicism and superciliousness. But it takes a team, and a crack reporter like Sixsmith, to uncover the fate of Philomena’s son, Anthony, purposefully hidden by the sisters of the convent of Roscrea in Ireland (whom Martin calls “The Sisters of Little Mercy”), where a teenage Philomena was left by her family to give birth to a baby boy, slave away in their laundries for three years “to pay her debt,” only to watch her little boy drive away with his adoptive parents, without even getting a chance to say goodbye. The early scenes in the convent, with a glowing Sophie Kennedy Clark as the young Philomena, recall a slightly less cruel version of The Magdalene Sisters (which is facetiously referred to by Martin at one point), and anchor the loving bond between Philomena and her son.

Framed within a very odd-couple road movie, Philomena and Martin set out in his BMW to Roscrea to learn of Anthony’s whereabouts, or at the very least his new name, only to be told that the records were burned in “the great fire.” Conveniently, however, the nuns had preserved Philomena’s written agreement to relinquish all rights to her son. A devout Roman Catholic who was educated at a convent school, Philomena believed she had sinned when she succumbed to the charms of a young man she met at a county fair (artfully shown in golden-hued flashbacks), even though as a teen she had no idea where babies came from, but after keeping her painful secret for 50 years, she realizes she must learn what has become of her boy. On their travels, which take them to Washington, DC, and back full-circle to the Irish abbey, there’s plenty of time for Martin, a non-believing, former Roman Catholic, to question Philomena’s belief in God and the Church, her forbearance with the nuns and her delight in simple things: romance novels, breakfast buffets, American television.

Coogan delivers his marvelous lines with the comic timing he’s known for, while expressing Martin’s own existential crisis. He’s not afraid of showing Martin’s snobbery to a waiter or Philomena, and his eventual compassion, though expected, is still touching. The film is especially strong in portraying the sometimes devil’s bargain of journalism. To tell more of the plot (though it is in the record) would detract from the pleasures of this movie, but suffice it to say that Anthony’s career crossed paths with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. Philomena is an amazing story, movingly told, which skirts sentimentality and rings true.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Major Releases

Into the Woods
Film Review: Into the Woods

Over-scaled, too dark and only intermittently charming Sondheim musical adaptation does a disservice to a great cast and is often so noisy you can't even appreciate the music. More »

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Film Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Latest rollicking entry in the sturdy series (installments one and two together hit a billion dollars in grosses) again has natural and historic wonders come alive at night to wreak havoc. But it’s largely kids’ stuff. More »

The Interview
Film Review: The Interview

If you’re curious, the movie that has North Korea so upset is genuinely amusing, if flawed in the length department. More »

Annie review
Film Review: Annie

Here’s an updated Annie for today’s entitled, tech-savvy and racially diverse generation of tweens who can easily relate to the new Annie’s love of luxurious toys. Their parents and other adults may miss the sweet innocence of the original, but they won’t be entirely bored by this frenetic new version of her classic story. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Into the Woods
Film Review: Into the Woods

Over-scaled, too dark and only intermittently charming Sondheim musical adaptation does a disservice to a great cast and is often so noisy you can't even appreciate the music. More »

The H obbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

After rewriting the rules for modern fantasy cinema, for the better and worse, Peter Jackson’s six-film Tolkien saga slams, bangs and shudders to a long-overdue conclusion. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here