Movie Reviews

‘Philomena’: An oddball journey of faith and forgiveness

By Wang DexianMovies - 12 February 2014 12:00 AM | Updated 19 February 2014

‘Philomena’: An oddball journey of faith and forgiveness

Our Rating

4/5 Stars

The quirkily titled ‘Philomena’ has emerged as a dark horse of sorts for this year's Academy Awards, racking up nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. So, by default, the title of this year's “little British film that could” probably goes to ‘Philomena’.

Based on the book, ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee’, written by journalist Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan), the film explores the process that Martin took to write the book on his travels with Philomena (Judi Dench).

The film begins with Martin losing his job as a mouthpiece to the Labour government in the UK.

While contemplating on whether to write his book on Russian history or to take up running, he gets an offer at a party to become a journalist again, dabbling in “human interest” stories. 

In the other story arc, Philomena finally reveals her 50-year secret to her daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin): that she once had a son, who was taken away from her by nuns at a convent where she lived and worked during her younger days.

Philomena and Martin cross paths eventually, they go off to the US in search of her son.

The contrast between the two characters is intriguing. Martin, full of dry sarcasm and an atheist, has to travel with the lively Philomena, a woman of deep Catholic faith. 

It all sounds a little like a standard oddball road trip involving two mismatched personalities, but veteran director Stephen Frears (‘The Queen’, ‘Dirty Pretty Things’) lends his typical unhurried touch to the work, which ultimately gives it a feel of natural heartrending honesty.

Frears allows the audience to get to know these characters slowly and both Coogan and Dench managed to mine their characters for remarkable depth and complexity that result in a pair of very strong performances.

In spite of the terrible tragedy that has happened to Philomena, she is happy-go-lucky, indulging in the delights of candy, throwaway contemporary literature and marvelling at hotel buffets.

However, in the more intimate moments of the film, Dench's dignified performance manages to give off a palpable sense of sadness about her character that is festered by five decades of heartbreak.

On the other hand, Coogan, who pulls double duty as writer/actor, is effective as Martin, whose role as outsider and observer serves as the audience's window into this whole mess.

Armed with a sharp tongue and quick quips, Coogan is the funniest thing in the movie yet he still manages to serve quite well as the foil to Dench, offering up outraged reactions as they discover more about what really happened, a stark contrast to Philomena's more forgiving nature. It is just as moving to see how he warms to his journalistic crusade.

What starts off as a seemingly cliched odd-couple comedy eventually turns into a heartbreaking and moving discourse about cruelty and injustice and how to respond to them.

Through a very personal story, ‘Philomena’ manages to tackle big issues such as faith, opening the audience’s eyes to the lives of children being sold into adoption, and putting forth the resonating message of learning to forgive others.

It is a true crowd-pleaser of the finest kind. 

‘Philomena’ opens in cinemas 13 Feb 2014

 

Movie Photos

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