Cast & Credits:
Release Date: November 22, 2013 (limited; expands: Nov. 27)
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: Stephen Frears
Screenwriter: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some language)
Official Website: Not Available
Based on the 2009 investigative book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, "Philomena" focuses on the efforts of Philomena Lee (Dench), mother to a boy conceived out of wedlock - something her Irish-Catholic community didn't have the highest opinion of - and given away for adoption in the United States. In following church doctrine, she was forced to sign a contract that wouldn't allow for any sort of inquiry into the son's whereabouts. After starting a family years later in England and, for the most part, moving on with her life, Lee meets Sixsmith (Coogan), a BBC reporter with whom she decides to discover her long-lost son.
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.
Did You Know?
Though the film appears to be set in about 2002, the red Mazda MX-5 in which Pete Olsen arrives at his house is a third generation model, not launched until 2005.
There are flashbacks which are done with "home movies". Some of these were created for the film but some of them are from actual footage of her real son.