Oscar Bait Season: Philomena
Reviewed by Jordan Goodier
Philomena is a lovely little film that turned out to be everything I expected it to be, and sometimes, this isn’t a bad thing at all. Directed by Stephen Frears, based on the book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” by journalist Martin Sixsmith; the film stars the legendary Judi Dench and the wonderful Steve Coogan as Philomena and Martin respectively and tells the true story of Philomena Lee’s search for her lost son.
The film is relatively short, being only an hour and a half long, and I was expecting it to be longer; but it turns out there’s not too much of a story to tell. Everything is quite straight forward, nothing feels dragged out and nothing feels rushed. The film is nicely paced; I was simply caught off guard because I’d expected some big epic journey. This isn’t a criticism, it’s just I had no idea what to expect from Philomena because it flew under people’s radars for the most part and I hadn’t actually watched the trailer in its entirety. What I’m trying to get at here, is that everything about this film can be pretty much summed up in two words; “short” and “sweet”.
What I was pleasantly surprised to see was that this film was actually fairly funny. Most of the humour comes from the “sweet, little, old Irish woman” Philomena; and I like to think that most other people will find this to be the case too, because she’ll no doubt remind people of their own mothers (if they’re old enough)and grandmothers. How clueless about certain things and also how (oddly) naive Philomena is about the world are both endearing qualities that she has that also provide much of the humour. Judi Dench is wonderful in all her acting roles, but it shines through here even more because she gets to portray such a lovely woman. A scene at the climax of the film pulled on my heartstrings and carries a message that I think everyone should take on board.
Philomena: Sister Hildegarde, I want you to know, that I forgive you.
Martin: What, just like that?
Philomena: It’s not just like that, it’s hard. That’s hard for me. But I don’t want to hate people. I don’t want to be like you. Look at you.
Martin: I’m angry.
Philomena: Must be exhausting.
The film is filled with lovely moments similar to this and they are all performed fantastically by the two leads. Steve Coogan as Martin is a clear contrast to Philomena’s character and they play off each other and make the dialogue seem so natural between them. They have a fair few funny conversations throughout the film and I don’t want to spoil them, but the humour actually reminded me a little of Father Ted and Mrs Brown’s Boys; not to say that they’re all that similar.
The writing in this film really is wonderful, there’s a lot of great dialogue for the actors and they perform the script to perfection. The directing is also decent, as is the cinematography, though they’re nothing special. The strengths of this film lie firmly in the screenplay and the actors and they are absolutely up to scratch. I’m very much hoping that Philomena wins the award for best British film, because it absolutely deserves it – it is one of the best British made films of the year and is the only one amongst the list for the award that isn’t a little sketchy; this film is absolutely a British film. It feels British and the majority of the talent involved are British. Similarly, I’ll also be rooting for Judi Dench for best actress at the upcoming Academy Awards, she certainly deserves this one.