Film Review – Philomena (2013)

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Title – Philomena (2013)

Director – Stephen Frears (The Queen)

Cast – Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Mare Winningham

Plot – Disgraced journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) takes on a “human interest” story that involves helping kindly old Irish woman Philomena (Dench) track down her long lost son after he was taken from her and adopted out by the Catholic Church after she had the child out of wedlock. Based on a true story.

“The Catholic Church should go to confession, not you!”

Review by Eddie on 22/07/2014

There’s no real doubt about the fact that Philomena is a hugely pleasant and enjoyable movie and features one of the great Judi Dench’s best on screen performances but there is also an overarching feeling that the film could of packed more emotional wallop, for in the end the film remains very watchable but not emotionally involving the way in which it’s potent story harbors within.

The films main drawbacks stem from some quite pedestrian like direction from old hand Stephen Frears behind the camera. Frears has found success throughout his career, in particular with his last true life tale The Queen, but here injects not a huge amount of imagination into a tale that could of involved through not only the present but with flashbacks and well-constructed present scenes. Another element of the film that could of potentially been improved upon is the performance of Steve Coogan, who far too often in front of camera seems to be playing a slightly different version from his real life self, not an actual embodied performance and his turn as disgraced former journalist Martin Sixsmith is again proof that his range is arguably fairly limited. While the film here fails in these mentioned areas it also excels in two very important ones that in its script and the portrayal of Philomena by Dench.

While Coogan miscalculated his appearance in the film he absolutely nailed the script of Philomena with his writing partner Jeff Pope. There are many touching and at times very witty moments in the film and banter between Coogan and Dench is frequently smile on the face joyous. The rich script by Coogan and Pope is fantastically played by Dench who instils Philomena with an air of grace, humour and love and in any other year there is a high chance that a well-deserved Oscar would of gone her way. In many ways Dench is the reason to watch the film and it is well and truly hers, overshadowing even the true life story at the centre of this tale.

Philomena is a highly inoffensive drama that highlights an oft hidden and extremely interesting time in the Catholic Churches’ history. With more flair behind camera, a stronger supporting turn to go along with Dench’s role for the ages and with more emotional investment for the audience to grab onto, Philomena would have been a downright classic but as it stands it lives solely off an acting great at the top of her game.

3 paperback romance novels out of 5

25 responses to “Film Review – Philomena (2013)

  1. I agree with your assessments and I bet many were waiting for another church abuse story. I, for one, am glad they did not. The character played by Dench did not harbor ill-will–and that’s rather accurate. Today we would be fisting it in the air and screaming foul play if our babies were collected and parceled out out of shame. But in the early half and up through to the 80s, the power of the church and the psychological impact of its rules reigned supreme in home and country. I loved the film. Nice review.

    • Very interesting thoughts there Cindy. I know a lot of people that really loved this film and while I loved Philomena the person I didn’t think overly highly of the way the film panned out. Would love to read the book one day.

  2. Good review Eddie. Something was up with me when I saw this movie. It wasn’t that I hated it, it was more that I just didn’t fully believe in everything this movie was trying to do, despite the story itself obviously being a real one.

    • I feel similar man, wish I loved it all more but in the end I really just dug Dench and Philomena the person. Could of been a lot worse but could of also been a lot better as a whole.

  3. I didn’t expect to cry so much with this film, to be honest, and it made me cry as much as it made me laugh, sometimes even in the same scene.

  4. I guess I liked this movie more than you, especially regarding Steve Coogan, but I agree that Judi Dench was terrific. This was one of those movies that immediately sent me off to Google to learn more about all of the people, especially the son.

    • Hi Joan, always a great sign when you end up straight on google after a flick. I found myself yesterday doing that with a foreign film by the name of The Past and also recently with Enemy.

  5. Pingback: Film Review - Philomena (2013) | Christians Anonymous·

  6. Hi Eddie
    Good review as always, and a great performance from Judi Dench (as always), but I’d have to say the emotional weight the movie carries with it is exceptional, and this is because of the excellent script and the presence of Dench. I wanted to learn more about the son and his life, particularly his childhood but I understand why we didn’t (it is called Philomena after all and not Anthony!). I would definitely recommend the book, it’s one of the very few times I’ve been glad to follow up on a movie that’s based on real events. It’s also worth checking out The Magdalene Sisters – darker stuff and even more impressive.

  7. I sort of enjoyed the overarching light-heartedness of this, but I agree that had it taken that extra step or two, it might’ve been a genuine hit. Judi Dench is wonderful. Great review Eddie!


  8. This was one of my favourite films from last year, it had so much more than I accepted when I went to see it at the cinema. I thought the story was so touching, yet so sad at the same time that a lot of it totally broke my heart.

  9. Pingback: Film Review – The Program (2015) | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

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