Philomena is a film directed by Stephen Frears, with a screenplay written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope. This film tells the true story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an Irish woman who had her son taken from her while she was a teenager working at a Catholic convent. For fifty years, Philomena kept this part of her life a secret, but after her daughter happens upon Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a recently fired journalist formerly with the BBC, he agrees to write a human-interest story about Lee’s desperate attempt to locate the whereabouts of her long lost son. During the course of their search, Philomena and Martin endure moments of heartbreak and exhilaration, and in the process, they learn from each other about the true meaning of life.
Philomena is a wonderfully inspiring film, and it succeeds on more than one plane. For starters, it is directed by Stephen Frears, a popular British filmmaker with an established repertoire of films, including High Fidelity (2000) and one of my personal favorites, The Queen (2006). The movie looks similar to a lot of well-produced British films in terms of overt elegance and stylistic subtlety, and Philomena benefits from Frears’s graceful treatment. Also, the screenplay, adapted by Coogan and Pope from Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, is witty, sad, exuberant, and tear-jerking in ALL of the right places, and this story is given justice on the screen because of its terrific script.
Notwithstanding the well-crafted filmmaking and scriptwriting, the film features two gifted acting performances: a stellar display by Dame Judi Dench and a striking performance by Steve Coogan. Judi Dench has one of cinema’s most distinguished filmographies, and in Philomena, she gives another award-worthy performance in the titular role. The story is about a woman that is tormented for fifty years about where her son might be, and Dench elucidates the character in an unbelievably powerful way. She allows the viewers to see and feel each of her emotions, and this connection makes your heart break for Philomena in more ways than you could ever think possible. Also, Coogan’s role as Sixsmith is not to be overlooked one bit. I have only come across Coogan in the past in comedic roles, but in this film, his dramatic acting helps make the movie a success. It probably helps that Coogan co-wrote the film, but his careful construction of the character’s on-screen mannerisms is certainly superb.
I greatly enjoyed this film, and as an independent production from England, it has not received its deserved attention; however, I was undoubtedly pleased with the number of Academy Award-nominations it received. It is most definitely a hidden gem, but it is one that affected me emotionally while watching it in the theater. Philomena is one of the most moving films I have seen in quite some time, and if you have not seen it yet, it will definitely be worth every minute of your time. Philomena is rated R for some language.
Philomena trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG3QP8foCvg
Academy Award nominations for Philomena:
Best Picture (Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, and Tracey Seaward, Producers)
Best Actress (Judi Dench)
Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope)
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:
13. Fruitvale Station
14. The Place Beyond the Pines
15. Dallas Buyers Club