Why Philomena is Awesome

“The odd but brilliant pairing of Dench and Coogan bring this heartfelt true story to life”

Philomena looks like an odd concoction; Judi Dench in a drama is to be expected, but with Steve Coogan? Not his usual style, for sure, but from the trailer alone you can see that the chemistry here is brilliant, and that the film will be equal parts moving and funny. Plus, who can beat an Irish accent?

Philomena stars Judi Dench as the titular Irish Roman Catholic who, as a young girl, had her son taken away from her and was forced to live in a convent. She has been looking for him for years, and Steve Coogan is the disgraced British journalist who reluctantly agrees to write a ‘human interest story’ and help her on her journey to find her son.

From the start it is clear that Philomena is a simple story; there are no tricks to speak of, except one Forrest Gump like image of a character shaking hands with President Reagan. Instead, it really is purely a human interest story, and one that should definitely be told. The film mixes present day with flashbacks of Philomena’s experiences, and this pulls the audience in and truly makes them aware of what happened to the girls who, like Philomena, were subjected to life in a convent. As the film progresses we begin to see what looks like old video footage, but it is slightly confusing as to whose memory this is as it doesn’t really relate to the characters in the scene. This is eventually resolved and is my only negative reaction, as Stephen Frears has created a beautifully told true story of a woman’s nearly 50 year secret heartache. He has made a movie that may not to be as successful as his surprise hit The Queen (2006), but definitely should be. It has all the same qualities: a great range of emotions and a lead performance that I believe would be hard to match by any other actress.

"A truly Oscar worthy performance from Judy Dench”

Judi Dench is superb as the plain, straight forward religious woman, with cracking one liners and full of heart. It wouldn’t surprise me if she was Oscar nominated for the part - she completely owns it. I was drawn into her performance and, particularly as it is based on a true story, I was shocked and horrified at some of the events. Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the script and produced the film, is also based on a real character. His Martin Sixsmith published the story of Philomena Lee and helped her track down her son. Martin is a more complicated character than Philomena in many ways and Coogan plays him perfectly. There is no Alan Partridge here; Coogan is the straight man to Judi Dench, whose character is funny due to her simplistic and straightforward nature.

Martin Sixsmith was, at the time, depressed after being fired from his job, and was looking for a new outlet. The story of Philomena dropped into his lap, so to speak, and it is not wrong to say that when he took the story it was for his own personal gain. At the beginning of the film, and frankly for most of it, Coogan's character is a complete arse; he is angry, rude, and has no faith. This personality compared with that of Dench’s Philomena is completely at opposites, and it is this that creates some of the more comical and also moving moments in the movie. By the end of their journey he may not have found his faith, but through merely spending time with her and helping her he becomes a much wiser and softer man.

"A rare self-contained story with a justified ending that leaves you feeling content”

The film comes full circle by the finale and although I agree with the sentiments of Martin, rather than Philomena (you’ll have to watch it to know what I mean), it has that rare thing that eludes most modern day films; it ends. No hook, no cliff hanger, and absolutely no chance of a sequel. The ending is, if not completely satisfying, justified, and you can leave the cinema content that you have just seen a small, simple but wonderfully told true story, that I can barely fault - and that’s saying something.

This has been Mary for The Awesome Update

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