When former journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what do. That changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena Lee (Dame Judi Dench), who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about her search for him that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son's fate. Furthermore, both find their basic beliefs challenged.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
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.
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