I’m not one to hand out praise easily, but this is a truly excellent film. Having known nothing about it beforehand, I was under the fearful impression that I would be watching a rom-com where Judi Dench and Steve Coogan fall in love. Luckily for all in involved, this was not the case. Philomena (Dench) tells the true story of the eponymous elderly Irish woman looking for the son who was stolen from her as a teenager in the 1950s, aided by Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), a journalist recently fallen from grace. Underlying the main narrative are themes of guilt, redemption and religion.
If you think it’s difficult to make a comedy out of a story involving evil nuns selling babies to the Americans while their mothers slave in the convent washroom, you’d probably be right in any other case. But somehow director Stephen Frears manages it. Even the heartless medic who accompanied me, well known as a cold-blooded being with a severe lack of emotion, had a tear or two in his eye. British humour was thankfully in high supply to stop the audience sinking into a deep depression and there were enough twists in the plot to prevent even the most cynical viewer labelling the film as clichéd.
I always have high expectations of Dench and she did not disappoint. My opinion of Coogan is usually less flattering, yet on this occasion I was impressed. The interaction between the two was undoubtedly the best part of the film, not because it revealed a profound moral message or offered a dazzling commentary on modern class relations, but because it was absolutely hilarious. But I did not approve of Dench using the word ‘clitoris’. No one needs to hear that.