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Review and Round-Up: Stephen Frears' Oscar-Friendly 'Philomena' Stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan (TRAILER)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 18, 2013 at 4:16PM

It's no surprise that the Weinstein Co. is releasing "Philomena," which is one of those movies aimed squarely at the Academy middle. It took a while for writer-producer-star Steve Coogan--who seems to be trying to perform some kind of career rehab by playing a softer-hearted creature than his usual--to persuade Stephen Frears to do the directing honors.
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in 'Philomena'
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in 'Philomena'
So far the reviews on this movie are strong indeed. Rotten Tomatoes is at 90%. A roundup and trailer are below. 


Philomena is one of those unusual movies it's hard to imagine anyone not enjoying. It doesn't preach or patronise. It's bright and neat on the ethics of storytelling – Martin has qualms about flogging his subject to the glossies, as well as about the whole notion of the "human interest story" – but it never gets too meta.

The impulse to make Philomena may have been born from anger. Yet it's resolved with a compassion that trips you up scene after scene. You can stand on a soapbox and still honour the pulpit.


This is an unabashed tearjerker that seems to belong to the Ladies in Lavender school of cosy British films that your granny might enjoy. It has Judi Dench in national treasure mode and plays up its own odd-couple elements shamelessly. Dench's Philomena Lee is a clucking old lady who reads the Daily Mail and enjoys a gossip. Coogan's Sixsmith is cynical and sardonic.

However, Philomena is so beautifully written and performed that it goes far beyond sitcom-style stereotyping. It is never patronising.


Frears’s film, comfortably his best since The Queen, is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman in her 70s of strong Catholic faith, who went in search of the son she was forced to give up for adoption 50 years earlier. Her millpond composure belies troubled depths, which is a character type that Dench plays well: she was awarded two best actress Baftas for playing the writer Iris Murdoch in Iris and Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown, and Philomena could easily make it three.

Hollywood Reporter:

Stephen Frears is in full possession of his filmmaking talent in Philomena, one of his most pulled-together dramas in years. The true story of a poor Irish woman who, fifty years after being forced to give her 3-year-old son up for adoption, searches for him with a worldly British journalist, is touching, witty and always absorbing. The inspired pairing of Dame Judi Dench and actor-writer-producer Steve Coogan, who is currently riding the wave of the British hit Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, will clinch the deal for most viewers and give the Pathé release a good shot at entertaining the world.


A howl of anti-clerical outrage wrapped in a tea cozy, “Philomena” applies amusing banter and a sheen of good taste to the real-life quest of Philomena Lee, an Irishwoman who spent decades searching for the out-of-wedlock son taken from her by Catholic nuns and sold into adoption overseas. Smoothly tooled as an odd-couple vehicle for Judi Dench in the title role and Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith, the British journalist who brought Lee’s story to international attention, this smug but effective middlebrow crowdpleaser boasts a sharper set of dentures than most films of its type, shrewdly mining its material for laughs and righteous anger as well as tears.

TOH! (Matt Mueller):

While she can be terribly funny, Dench is also supremely moving in her role. There's a scene early on where Sixsmith and Philomena first visit the Roscrea convent to see what news they can find, and the jovial mother superior tells them about the fire that destroyed the records. In a moment of staggering human intimacy, the actress looks down at her lap like she might just fold up and perish right there from the heartbreak. Dench takes your breath away, and so does "Philomena".

This article is related to: Philomena, Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, The Weinstein Co., Weinstein Co., Weinsteins, The Weinstein Company, The Weinsten Co., Oscars, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Awards, Reviews, Reviews

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.