Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in Philomena (2013)


(director: Stephen Frears; screenwriters: Jeff Pope/Steve Coogan/ based on the book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith; cinematographer: Robbie Ryan; editor: Valerio Bonelli; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Judi Dench (Philomena), Steve Coogan (Martin Sixsmith), Sophie Kennedy Clark (Young Philomena), Mare Winningham (Mary), Barbara Jefford (Sister Hildegarde), Ruth McCabe (Mother Barbara); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Gabrielle Tana/Steve Coogan/Tracey Seaward; Weinstein Company; 2013)

Dench gives a superb performance as a simple, trusting woman of faith.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Stephen Frears(“The Queen”/”Dirty Pretty Things”/”Liam”) superbly directs this compelling true story drama that’s based on the 2009 investigative book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. The screenplay is written by Jeff Pope and the film’s co-star Steve Coogan. The story has a good blend of humor and drama.

Some fifty years ago, in 1952, in Ireland, the nuns at the Roscrea convent took from Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an incarcerated resident of the convent, then a pregnant teen with no parents, her bastard son and put it up for adoption in America. Steve Coogan plays the obnoxious, world-weary, foreign correspondent, atheist Brit investigative journalist who is persuaded by his BBC boss to help Philomena find her long-lost son and to tell her story in print. He in turn must persuade the reluctant Philomena to go on this journey with him.

Like it or not, the journalist exposes a church that is hypocritical and would rather sweep the scandal under the rug than expose its culpability.

Dench gives a superb performance as a simple, trusting woman of faith who feels at this time in her life, after raising a family and settling down and spending her entire adult life atoning for her sin, that she must relentlessly search for her son though as a teen was forced to sign a contract with the church saying she would never try to make contact with her son again. At the convent, the odd-couple are falsely told by the nuns that her son’s records were burned in a fire. At a local pub, rumors have it that her son was purchased, not adopted, by a wealthy American couple. With that info and other leads uncovered by the journalist, the searchers travel to Washington DC.

It’s a well-told bitter-sweet human interest story, more refreshing than I would have thought, that offers life-lessons in humility not only for the surly journalist but everyone else. Because of the saintly heroine’s strong belief in forgiveness, the pic leaves its anger over the wrong-doers on hold.