Based on an investigative book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, Philomena is a poignant yet entertaining drama that will infuriate, anger and evoke chortles of sniggers.
Directed by Stephen Frears, the film brings attention to a generation of children during 1950s Ireland taken from young, vulnerable Irish women by the Catholic Church. After years of worrying over the fate of her son, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) decides to finally track him down. Aided by Martin, an insufferably foppish and cynical journalist (Steve Coogan) who begrudgingly takes on the ‘human interest’ story, the odd couple slowly put the pieces together behind her son’s life.
Unsurprisingly, the grave subject matter and no-holds-barred depiction of the Church’s practice of selling these children to America has caused controversy in the US for its alleged anti-Catholic, anti-Republican undertones. Though, the film isn’t afraid to point the finger at the harsh treatment of Philomena and the Church’s attempt to erase the past, Philomena also shows the necessity of forgiveness and compassion; having Dench play the protagonist definitely helps with another convincing performance.
The low-thrills cinematography and stock-standard narrative means there is a slight TV drama feel to Philomena, but the film’s sentimentality never feels forced. The palpable chemistry between Dench and Coogan is the centrepiece, with the script, co-written by Coogan with Jeff Pope, always sparkling with a warm humour.
With the Christmas season around the corner, Philomena rises above the pitfalls of just focusing on the pain and suffering caused by the Irish Catholic Church. By showing the importance of forgiveness and compassion, the Philomena will capture your heart and bring out the handkerchiefs.
BY LARRY LAI
Philomena opens in cinemas on Thursday December 26.