Steve Coogan in actually quite good dramatic actor shock. Actually, Philomena – the adaptation of Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee – is more than just Coogan demonstrating his acting chops, it’s Coogan demonstrating his way with a screenplay, as he co-wrote it with Jeff Pope.
It’s essentially a sister piece – nun pun slightly intended – to 2002’s The Magdalen Sisters. Philomena Lee was a young unmarried Irish Catholic forced to give up her son by the Church and who, some 50 years on (and now played by Dench) is trying to trace him.
Circumstances put her in touch with Martin Sixsmith, former BBC correspondent and unfairly disgraced political advisor. Although “human interest stories” are not his forte, Sixsmith teams up with Philomena, and this odd couple embark on a journey from London to Ireland to Washington DC as they attempt to find her long lost son.
And, thanks to the screenplay, Frears’ assured direction and two wonderful central performances, the results are surprisingly funny without ever pulling the story’s punches or losing any of the deep-seated emotions of the story.
Sixsmith’s journalistic cynicism and Philomena’s deep-seated faith make for an interesting contrast, both in their personal interactions and, inevitably, their interactions with the Catholic Church.
A deeply touching tale and a very, very good film.
EXTRAS ★★★ The feaurette The Journey of Philomena (24:07); a Q&A with Steve Coogan (24:21), filmed at a Guild Screening in LA in December 2013; the featurette The Real Philomena (2:50); A Conversation With Judi Dench (8:56); and the theatrical trailer.