Philomena review by George Hooper - Cinema Paradiso
I knew going into Philomena that I would like it. After all it stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan and it tells the true and incredibly personal true story of the titular Philomena (Dench) as she strives to find the son that was taken from her over half a century ago.
However the film mainly follows Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), a British spin doctor who finds himself fired from government and trying to find his way after his unceremonious dismissal. When he is told Philomena’s story he sees an opportunity to reinvent himself through their investigation as they travel to Ireland and Washington DC to find the truth of what really happened to Philomena’s child.
Hailed as the film to beat at the Baftas this year, Philomena definitely lives up to the hype as Dench and Coogan compliment each other with their very different personas with Philomena being a gentle hearted Irish woman who has spent years repenting for her perceived sins and Martin being an aggressive atheist, an angry man with good reason to be.
The film while based on a search for family is really a discussion of faith and it handles this search for identity through religion with care as Martin and Philomena find themselves trying unintentionally to persuade each other one way or the other. In fact director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity) uses the films delightfully subversive script (Cowritten by Coogan) to emphasises one key element of the film that differentiates Philomena from all the other emotionally dense films of its genre. Martin and Philomena are never really close, they never connect in the way you would expect and while some may be offended or think the film lacked that bond it adds a sense of reality, an idea that these two people are performing a task, a task that while mutually beneficial doesn’t meant they have to like each other.
The film gets some of its best moments from the sense of debate between the two and without it the film would be dead in the water. Clever, bittersweet yet heartwarming at the same time, Philomena is easily the best British film this year and it would be hard to beat when the Baftas finally do come around