Ben Oliver

Banner image for Philomena


The Catholic Church should go to confession, not you!
24 January 2015

An elderly Irish woman (Judi Dench) goes on a journey to find her estranged son, taken away from her at a young age whilst staying in a convent. She is aided by a journalist (Steve Coogan) attempting to write up the story. Based on real events.

Coogan is a posh journalist and Dench is an old Catholic woman, yet Frears manages to play the culture clash in a unique, bullshit-free way. I’ve not read the source material, but Philomena feels like a charming encounter between two real people, rather than a hilarious meeting of worlds.

There’s no wacky love-hate relationship at play between the two either. All the elements I was expecting to hate about this weren’t there.

Talking of source material, the story is incredible - to the point where my incredulity led me to pause the film and do some fact checking. It’s an amazing tale.

Coogan isn’t the best actor but manages to get by, while Dench yet again excels and surprises. She’s clearly gone the extra mile to make this character work, when on the surface the film doesn’t seem like it’s got that much to offer. The script is often a little crude but Dench works with it and pulls it off.

Philomena blind sided me with its genuine charm and originality. It’s not a classic or anything I fancy coming back to in a hurry, but nonetheless a brilliant example of a good story well told.

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