Sunday, December 1, 2013


Real people facing a profound betrayal with wit and heart

     Philomena sounded like a nice, middlebrow movie about a nice Irish woman looking for the son that was taken from her and put up for adoption.  The previews and TV ads have made it look like she’s sweet and dotty with a deadpan, comical gent, who goes along for the ride.  Judi Dench and Steve Coogan play the main parts so I thought it would be well acted
and funny.   When it started, Neil asked, “Who directed this?”  I hadn’t paid attention to that, but then Stephen Frears’ name appeared on screen and I thought, oh this will be good.  As Neil said afterward, “It’s perfectly paced.”

Steve Coogan
     It is a really good movie and it’s edgy because of the witty, literate script by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope.  Actually, this is an understated triumph for Coogan, who has long deserved a broader audience in the U.S.  Not only has he co-written the script, but he also co-produced and delivers an excellent performance as Martin Sixsmith, an accomplished writer, who’s losing hope.  In previous roles, his sarcastic pretentiousness that verged on contempt has been the butt of the joke.  This time, he’s simultaneously determined and uncertain; his anger is completely honest and it drives the plot.  

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan
     Coogan usually works best with a partner and he’s found his most complex and profound screen relationship in Judi Dench as Philomena Lee.  She perfectly realizes an ordinary woman who’s faithful and compassionate.  Her technique is so extraordinary that it’s invisible.  She’s like a later female incarnation of Alec Guinness.  Her accent captures a woman raised in Ireland who spent part of her adulthood in England.  At first, Martin assumes he understands her, but he doesn’t perceive her emotional depth and, once he does, it draws him to her.  

Sophie Kennedy Clark
     The rest of the casting hits the mark.  The urchins look like children of the early ‘50s and Sophie Kennedy Clark possesses the vitality of what we presume to be a teenaged Dench.  It was good to see Mare Winningham as the son’s adopted sister, whose life hasn’t quite worked out, Anna Maxwell Martin as Philomena’s solicitous daughter, and Barbara Jefford as the ancient nun stewing in her self-righteousness, which masks her corrupting envy.

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