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|Index||241 reviews in total|
As several critics have observed, this wonderful film, just shown at
TIFF, is destined to become this year's King's Speech (which began its
Oscar run in Toronto too, though Philomena has already picked up
accolades in Venice). Both British films have strongly emotional
undercurrents leavened by wry humour, feature outstanding performances
from the leads and are based on true stories.
Judi Dench, as the Irish woman whose out-of-wedlock son is taken from her by Catholic nuns and sold to a rich American couple in the 1950's, has never been better. She imbues the role with a mix of wisdom (after all, as she reminds us repeatedly, she was nurse for 30 years) and naiveté that would seem to be impossible were it not so deftly handled. While the cynical atheist portrayed by Steve Coogan rarely misses an opportunity to poke fun at her, more often than not she enjoys the last laugh.
Despite the consummate acting, and Frears' slick directing, the greatest treat of the film is Steve Coogan's screenplay. Given its subject matter, the story could easily have veered into melodrama, but just when it is on the verge of doing so Coogan pulls us back from the edge. Thankfully, Coogan himself is there to convey precisely the proper blend of sarcasm and compassion.
Having lived the mother-baby home experience in Ireland (born at
another of the Sacred Heart homes, Bessboro, in Cork in 1960, and
trafficked to the US in 1961) and working as an advocate for the rights
of adopted people and survivors of Irish Magdalene Laundries for more
than twenty years, I'm always prepared to be either underwhelmed or
angry at the film industry's ineptitude with subjects like this, I have
to say I have not been as pleasantly surprised since Mike Leigh's
excellent 'Secrets and Lies' and Peter Mullan's superb 'The Magdalene
Sisters'. Frears, Coogan, Dench et al give Philomena's very true story
such punch, truth and pathos, a heady accomplishment given the subject
I look forward to the film's US release and urge my fellow 'Banished Babies' to see it, although I recommend going with support as it's very triggering. Let's hope Philomena's strength and tenacity, so powerfully portrayed by Dame Judy, coax more mothers living in shame and denial to reach out to their lost children before it's too late.
My wife talked me into going, I wanted to see Captain Philips but she was adamant this time. We both grew up in Ireland and I didn't want to see another one of those movies focused on stereotypes, the marketing blob types like the Quiet Man and Ryan's Daughter...stereotypical nonsense that lampoon our history and our culture. Steve Coogan and Judy Dench, especially Judy got it just right from the very start. They were smart, witty, serious and most of all, Judy was 'Irish' They really got the spirit of an Irish mom, that cocktail of guilt, generosity, inferiority and a heart to care for the entire world spot on. Dench in the hotel thanking everybody for being 'so nice' and getting who her son was as a child as others were today trying to 'break the news' to her...she wasn't just a step ahead, she was years ahead. Really excellent, really well done. Beautiful!
Steve Coogan deserves utmost respect for producing and writing this film. His script is excellent, consistently witty and engaging on the surface whilst spinning many more layers beneath the surface which became unconsciously stirring. Normally with these kinds of films I find the humour becomes contrived, forced or inappropriate, like the writers/director buckle under a need to impress and please the audience. You won't find those jarring moments here - Philomena is expertly judged and balanced. The story itself is fascinating, and again Coogan's script steers clear from overt sentimentality to allow the humanity to speak for itself. A gentle, funny, heartbreaking and unforgettable film. I actually much prefer it to the Kings Speech.
Sometimes I get the feeling filmmakers have lost their way. Formulas work and make the basics irrelevant so we get carbon copy blockbusters appealing to the masses clearly showing a reckless disregard for what filmmaking is all about: visually telling a story. And then a film like Philomena comes along and reminds us of the magic that can happen when a true craftsman and artist skillfully blends the basic ingredients of story, character, camera, and music into an exhilarating and powerful work of art. This film is satisfying at every level and gives me hope that some people still know what they are doing when they take the money and do their job effectively. The folks on this one should be extremely proud of their efforts.
The most remarkable thing about Stephen Frears' remarkable film "Philomena" is just how unsentimental and just how funny it actually is. Human Interest stories, the phrase Martin Sixsmith, (played superbly here by Steve Coogan), uses to describe exactly what it is he is doing in taking on the case of Philomena Lee, usually leave me cold for the very reasons Sixsmith describes in the film. But this is no ordinary 'human interest' story but a study of goodness triumphing over evil in a very real sense for surely Philomena Lee, as portrayed here, is a truly good person and the system she found herself fighting, though hardly by choice, namely the Catholic Church in Ireland, is in this instance anyway, evil. It's a heart-wrenching story but told with a good deal of natural humour and a distinct lack of lachrymation, (though you would need to have a heart of stone or no heart at all not to be moved to tears). The director is Stephen Frears who almost takes a back seat and lets the tale tell itself. The script is by Coogan and Jeff Pope and it beautifully encapsulates the book that Sixsmith wrote about Philomena Lee's search for the son who was taken away from her by Irish nuns and sold to an American couple simply because she had given birth out of wedlock at a time when such 'sins' were considered almost unforgivable. But Philomena never displays bitterness nor does she feel hatred. It simply isn't in her nature and in the end it is she who forgives rather than feel the need to ask for forgiveness. All the performances are first-rate and in the title role Judi Dench is simply phenomenal. This could so easily have become a display of actorly histrionics but Dench underplays almost to the point of invisibility. We certainly never see Dench up there on the screen but the incredible woman she is playing. Her performance is heart-breaking but then so is the whole film. Oscars are just not good enough.
The film starts with the message that it is based on true events. Although you might wonder what was changed for the film, you soon forget that and accept it as a whole. In short it was brilliant. It could have been a predictable story but instead it had other dimensions and took unexpected directions with strong characters and some humour. I thought I knew an outline beforehand and was pleasantly surprised when that part was covered in the first twenty minutes. It was intriguing where the story would take us and that happened a few more times later. In addition to Philomena's journey, there was also Martin Sixsmith's journey from the beginning as just a detached journalist doing a human interest story on someone, whom he thought was beneath him, to being totally involved and offering not to publish it. To illustrate the depths of this film you can see how it attacks cruel, narrow-minded, sanctimonious Catholicism and at the same time shows how the faith gave strength to Philomena and the ability to forgive rather than to wreak vengeance. The acting was totally convincing. It is going to be a competitive year but Judy must be up for another Oscar. Just watching Steve Coogan's almost imperceptible expressions of irritation as Philomena told him the interminable plot of the book she had just been reading, was wonderful. This is definitely the best film I have seen all year. After writing this I read the interview with Martin Sixsmith on the Guardian web-site. It fills in more detail about Michael Hess (Anthony Lee) but confirms the whole truth of the story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*****May Contain Spoilers***** This heart-warming and humorous drama
screened at TIFF this year and I was lucky enough to see this premiere,
and this film stars Dame Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Mare Winningham, &
Michelle Fairley. "Philomena" comes to us from director Stephen Frears,
and he has been a very successful director for a very long time with
films the likes of "The Queen" & "High Fidelity" going all the way back
to "The Grifters" & "Dangerous Liaisons".
This tale tells of a woman in her mid to late 60's named Philomena, and she is and has been in search of her long lost son for many years. As a young teenager she got into trouble and gave birth to a baby boy out of wedlock. Now in a last chance effort for Philomena she contacts a disgraced journalist to enlist his help in finding her son. This writer is Martin Sixsmith and he is coincidently very much in need of something in his life at this moment, and together he and Philomena embark on a journey of parental heartache while tackling new frontiers within themselves.
Well people I will start by saying that director Stephen Frears has picked up right where he left off with "The Queen". He seemed to have struggled here and there for a few years, but he is at the top of his game for the second time in the last two attempts. This filmmaker has created drama that is compelling, laugh out loud funny, and solidly entertaining all at the same time, and his direction unfolds the story in a smooth and even manner. Frears knows exactly when and where to be serious, he knows when to lighten the story, and most of all he always keeps the film interesting. There is a plot reveal in the beginning of the second act and it really could've dampened the mood and tone of "Philomena", but instead this director constantly takes us into fresh and enjoyable territory.
The screenplay is delivered by star Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope and together they have countless television writing credits to their names, but I am totally shocked at just how fulfilling a feature film that they have crafted with "Philomena". These screenwriters consistently fill this film with doses of wit and charm, but those moments surround a very interesting and investigating tale. They have created a story full of rich and full characters, and these characters deliver their lines brilliantly. The spoken dialogue is out-and-out bold at times, and even some of the humorous lines had quite an edge to them. On top of all of this the movie is very touching and sincere, and you'd better bring a box of Kleenex when you see this because many were weeping all around me. People will be crying for moments both happy and sad as the tale plays out, but the entire movie will resonate with most people for a while after the end credits have stopped rolling.
This takes me to the driving force of this feature, and that would be to stars Judi Dench & Steve Coogan. Dame Judi Dench delivers to us a wonderful turn on the silver screen, and her performance is quite unique because few can find the line between warm, cordial, and direct all in the same film. She very much sheds her usual hard edge in favor a lovely and humane role. She opens the audience up to a motherly love and passion for finding a child that has been long since gone, and at the same time she swears and brings a blunt truthfulness to many scenes throughout the movie.
Then Steve Coogan trades in his usual straight comedic portrayal and instead gives us what I would say is his best work on the big screen to date. His work as Martin Sixsmith is a wonderful slice of drama, and his combination of serious & light humor couldn't have worked more brilliantly. Coogan must have had a real passion for this project because he serves as screenwriter and producer as well as star, and you can see that passion when you're watching the end result. He is a character that is maturing into a new spot in his life, and to me as an actor he has accomplished the exact same thing.
Now together Dench & Coogan are quite a character all their own, and the brilliant banter between them was definitely the motor that drove this story. "Philomena" thrives on the great and constant confrontations between Martin and his older counterpart, and these two performers actually get the best acting out of each other. The more that they are together in the film the better the movie gets, and as the film plays on they both learn and grow as people because of their interaction together. Just like "Midnight Run" this movie doesn't work without both the ying and the yang, and would have fallen apart without cooperation.
At right around 1 hour and 40 minutes "Philomena" was nothing short of a bright shining jewel of a film. This is one of the most moving and pleasantly constructed features that I have seen all year, and I could easily sit through this one again when it gets a wide push across the country. The two lead characters work so incredibly well together that they should consider working with each other more often. If you are a Judi Dench fan this movie is a must-see, if you are a Steve Coogan fan this is a must-see, and if you are a fan of truly great movies then this feature is for you as well. This movie is absolute perfection & that's why Nick's Reel Screen Review is a perfect 4 stars out of 4, and that's for one of the year's best in "Philomena".
Steve Coogan is in danger of becoming a good actor. After the dull thud that was Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, 2013 has seen Coogan turn heads as Paul Raymond in The Look of Love and more than hold his own in What Massie Knew. And now comes Philomena, which he co-wrote, co-produced and stars alongside Judi Dench. Based on the 'human interest' story of Philomena Lee (Dench) written by out of favour journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), Philomena recounts the true story of a devout Catholic girl who was abandoned by her father at a convent when she fell pregnant out of wedlock. The nuns at the convent, while abusing the many girls in their care and subjecting them to what accounted to slavery, ran a sideline business in selling their babies to rich Americans. Fifty years after the theft of her son, Philomena, riddled with good old Catholic guilt, goes in search of her son aided by Sixsmith but the nuns, not content with their initial abuse and kidnapping, weave a shroud of lies to thwart her. For those who have seen Peter Mullan's excellent The Magdalene Sisters, or read the news any time over the past couple of decades, you'll be very familiar with the many indiscretions of the Catholic church and the multitudinous cover-ups that have ensued. If ever there was need for yet another reason not to be Catholic, Philomena is it. But Coogan and director Stephen Frears are at pains not to make this a catholic-bashing exercise. Wrongs are highlighted and they cannot change the opinions of the viewers, but judgment of specific individuals is held at bay. In the final act, though it's not a huge shock, there is hope given for humanity, regardless of religion. Philomena is a simple story of huge consequence and heartbreak. So often one finds oneself thinking evil thoughts and relief that it happened to someone else, and that is a fine achievement of the director. He unravels the story as he loosens the binds on his characters. Certain elements feel too good to be true and we find ourselves dreading the Hollywood veneer that often coats 'based on truth' stories, but Frears never falls into that trap and stands fast to tell the truth. Frears is back to the form of 2006's award-laden The Queen, and Philomena, complete with another Dame in the title role, looks like taking more gold before the award season is out. Judi Dench is wonderful here, but then how often is she anything but? She brings much gentle humour to the role of a woman who has lived a very simple life of toil, secrets and hidden emotions, who is unaware that the drinks on her flight are free. It is easy to view her as a woman from the backwaters with no experience of the real world, and then she drops statement that makes it perfectly clear she is aware of the world around her; she just chooses not to engage in all of its activities and attitudes. It is an uncomplicated performance that feels very true, very real and is very affecting. One hopes that the real Philomena is at ease and comforted by Dench's respectful portrayal. Coogan continues to be a revelation. Gone (finally) is his reliance on Alan Partridge idiosyncrasies and instead he has climbed into a character that is real and flawed in a natural way. It's not a performance that is going to make jaws hit the floor but he plays assuredly against Dench, ensuring she has something more than a plank to react to. His next big screen outing, Northern Soul with Antonia Thomas (Sunshine on Leith) is suddenly a very attractive prospect. Philomena is one of those fine cinema experiences that leaves one questioning one's own capacity for resilience and forgiveness. Whilst the crimes are heinous, is anything truly unforgivable? More than that, Philomena is a film that lingers. It is never going to have the wow factor of, say, Gravity or bring forth the smiles Sunshine on Leith, but it is fine story worthy of your attention an accolades. Just not if you're a certain type of nun.
Fabulous piece of work by all concerned. We get to see all sides of a single story without excessive back flips, cartwheels and other cinematic tricks. Coogan has got the measure of this story and pulls off a truly convincing performance as Sixsmith whilst Dench almost manages to do an entire film with a dialect....occasionally lapses but you may not notice. This is a real tear-jerker at points, thought provoking at many junctures and full of ironic humour. That's quite a feat and the more enjoyable for being so. I presume the timescale is roughly ten years ago so attempts at getting tech right for the period is still possible - amazing that so recent history can seem like centuries ago when we see old technology in use. I can see this film being a 'classic' long before it reaches any real age. Its the 21st century version of a 19th century Dickens tale, that it is.
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