Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Sean Mahon, Peter Hermann, and Mare Winningham
Directed by Stephen Frears
Based on a true story, Philomena doesn't shy away from heavy subject matter, tackling both religious and political themes. While I welcome this aspect of Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope's script, I also must comment on their creative license that paints several figures in the piece as morally repugnant. The film's final scene -- a showdown between two parties -- in fact never happened. Placed in the film simply to up the dramatic quotient of things, the entire scene actually rang a bit untrue -- it was written almost childlike in its angry dialog -- and, come to find out, it never actually occurred. Coogan and Pope were specifically twisting their plot to buoy their anti-religious standpoint.
However, for all the anti-Catholicism that occurs in the film, there is also a reverence given to the religion as well through the eyes of Philomena. Despite all that happened to her as a child and the pain she's suffered through as an adult because of the loss of her child, she still looks to God for guidance. The Catholic Church is certainly not without reproach and I give this film credit for trying to create a balance between the believers and the non-believers. While I think Coogan and Pope went a step too far, they get close to their goal.
Philomena's story is a sad one, but the woman herself was a trooper and Judi Dench brings her joyful and respectful ways of life to the screen with gusto. This'll sound corny, but there's heart on display that immediately connects the audience to the title character, with Dench bringing dignity to the title character's plight. Dench really is fantastic here, garnering the accolade that I typically churn out at least once or twice an awards season -- even the slightest eye movement from conveys all we need to know about her character's internal thoughts which, to me, is an admirable quality in an actor. While we certainly feel sorry for her, Philomena is a strong woman and Dench never makes us pity her -- something that easily could've happened. Countering Dench, Steve Coogan's bitterness plays well against her and the duo really do have nice chemistry with one another.
Overall, Philomena is a solid film. Although the writers made the finale a bit too dramatic for its own good, Dench's performance alone makes this one worth seeing.
The RyMickey Rating: B