‘You should be nice to people on the way up because you might meet them again on the way down.’
It’s always a strange feeling taking your seat in the cinema and realising you’re one of the youngest there, but it’s often an indicator that the film that you’re about to see is a good one. This is certainly the case of Philomena, the true story of Journalist and former Government spin doctor, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) attempting to help Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) track down her long-lost son.
The film begins with a series of flashbacks which show a young Philomena being sent to a nunnery for committing the ‘sin’ of falling pregnant outside of wedlock. Her son is then mysteriously taken away in a car from the nunnery when he was 3 years old. Now on his 50th birthday, an older Philomena wants to find out what sort of a man he became. She then gains the help of Journalist, Martin Sixsmith, who’s interested in doing a ‘human interest story’ after his fall from grace in the Government. The journey sees them travel to America where it is believed her son would have been sold to a rich American family by the ‘evil nuns’. The journey that follows is one of heartbreak, closure and various twists in helping Philomena get her answers, and Martin to get his story, accumulating in an unlikely but heart-warming friendship between the two.
Dench gives an outstanding performance in conveying this heart breaking tale, and deserves the plaudits she’s receiving. When Philomena has hope, you have hope. When Philomena is upset, you feel upset. It may sound obvious, but not many actors can truly evoke this response upon an audience in such a profound way, and on numerous occasions you’ll be holding your head in your hands in sorrow.
Another aspect of Philomena which the film gets spot on is the comedic aspect which it is laced with, mainly down to the brilliant writing from Coogan and Jeff Pope. In the opening scene Coogan is delighted to find out his stool sample has been marked as ‘outstanding’, only to learn this means he hasn’t submitted one yet. ‘I suppose that’s the sort of thing you’d remember submitting’, he quirks.
The line between drama and comedy is drawn perfectly, where so many other films go wrong. The laughs often come as comic relief and to stop the upsetting subtext of the film becoming too heavy. However, when it’s time to be serious at certain points of the film, the laughter ceases, to allow the sadder aspects to be realised. Perfect.
Notes: Nuns are scary. They should make a horror film where nuns are the villains.
Fans of the film may want to read ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee’ by Martin Sixsmith to find out more about the true story the film is based upon.