re:View – Philomena

Judi Dench returns in this tour de force of a heart-warming crowd pleaser.

Up until the 1980s, a pregnancy outside marriage was considered a sin and a great shame in parts of British and Irish society. Many young mothers were pressured to give up their babies for adoptions, and would never see them again.

Philomena tells the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an Irish woman from Limerick who gets pregnant at the age of 18, a major taboo in her society. She is shunned by her family and sent to a country convent to live under the nuns oppressive regime.

At the convent she gives birth to her son Anthony in 1952. Even as she has to labour through a breech birth, she is denied painkillers as the nuns see the pain as a punishment for her sins. In 1955 Anthony is given up for adoption by the nuns and all links between mother and child are broken.

After 50 years of silence, Philomena tells her daughter Jane of her dark secret. Jane seeks out the former BBC foreign correspondent now turned disgraced spin doctor recently fired from the Blair government Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan. Sixsmith reluctantly agrees to help but finds himself dragged deeper and deeper into the story of Philomena and her lost son Anthony.

Many of the films comic moments occur in the class between Philomena and Sixsmith’s radically different characters. The Cambridge educated and upper-class Sixsmith often find himself falling short in confrontation with the stout Catholicism and simple life philosophy of Philomena.

The hunt for the lost child takes them on a long journey, both physically and mentally. At times the phase is slow, but without being boring.

Judi Dench has received much acclaim for her role as Philomena, and rightly so. Her excellent acting contributes to make Philomena a very thought provoking character. Steve Coogan might be a little bit outside his natural habitat, having a wast portfolio in comedy like the recent film Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, but this more serious role turns out great. It’s good to see him broadening the scope of his career.

Philomena is directed Stephen Frears(The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons) and he does a fine job balancing the emotional aspects of the film, making it enjoyable for a wide audience. Even as it is a feelgood movie, it also packs some political punch.

Philomena is released on November 1.

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