Review by-Jarrett Leahy
This afternoon, I introduced Michelle to the touching story of Philomena. I had originally seen Philomena a month or so before I started up AmateurCinephile, and revisiting it yet again only confirms my initial evaluation of the film. Philomena is adult cinema of the highest quality. Director Stephen Frears, who is best known for The Queen and High Fidelity, adeptly walks a tight line of telling an important yet difficult story without casting aspersions on the entire Catholic church or organized religion as a whole. What we are offered instead is a tender, heart-wrenching, and cathartic story of a mother’s search for her long lost son.
Philomena Lee, a retired nurse in her late 60’s, suffers from a dark, painful secret from her past that she has kept from everyone in her family. At age 17, innocently naïve, Philomena became pregnant after a one-time love affair with a handsome young man. Mortified, her widowed father abandoned her, leaving Philomena in the custody of a Catholic convent. There she gives birth to a son and is forced to work in the laundry room for four years to pay off the resultant cost of her stay and childbirth. Guilted into relinquishing custody, one day the nuns, without warning, adopted out her beloved son to another family without even allowing her to say goodbye. Now fifty years later, Philomena enlists the help of a recently maligned journalist to aid in the daunting search of the son she never forgot.
Judi Dench is simply phenomenal, giving a performance filled with compassion and goodness, while personifying a humorous appreciation for the simple pleasures of life. Lingering on her beautifully aged face, the camera invites the study of one of our greatest actresses. Dench fully embodies Philomena, capturing every emotional nuance and allowing the audience to perceive each feeling she experiences. As difficult as it is to choose a best performance for such a talented actress, Philomena would be my humble choice. In fact, if I could have awarded the Best Actress Academy award for 2013, I would have given it to Dench over Cate Blanchett, who was also brilliant in Blue Jasmine.
Steve Coogan, who plays the journalist Martin Sixsmith, was the driving force behind bringing Philomena’s story to the big screen, as he was also a co-producer and co-writer of the screenplay. Coogan aptly embodies an exterior of sarcastic skepticism that masks an inner kindness and sympathy for this virtuous woman and her strife. These two together create an unlikely partnership that is both charming and sincere.
Nominated for four Academy awards including Best Picture, Philomena is storytelling at its finest. Frears is able to share this painfully moving true story without creating too negative a tone or casting blame on anybody other than those directly involved. Judi Dench is an actress in a league few can ever even hope to attain, and Philomena only strengthens that argument. I beg of you not to ignore or be scared off by the somber nature of the film’s subject matter, Philomena is truly one of the best movies of 2013 and deserves to be seen and appreciated by the widest audience possible.-JL