Salisbury Press

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Movie Review: 'Philomena' tells her story

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

Many of the best non-documentary feature films of 2013 have been based on true stories.

These include "Dallas Buyers Club," "12 Years A Slave," "Captain Phillips," "The Butler" and "42."

"Philomena" is another of the year's best films where the adage applies: "Truth is stranger than fiction."

The film should bring an Oscar actress nomination for Dame Judy Dench in the title role.

Philomena (Dench) is an elderly Irish woman who wants to get in touch with the son she has never known. Because of an unplanned pregnancy when she was a teen, the son was put up for adoption by sisters at a convent in Ireland.

Through a happenstance, Philomena meets with a former BBC reporter, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who agrees to help her locate her son. Their research takes them to the United States where her son has grown up to become a government official in the President Ronald Reagan administration.

Since the storyline for "Philomena" is slight, to reveal more about the plot direction would be a spoiler. There's a small story here that, as with many human-interest stories, looms large in the telling.

"Philomena" moves along at a leisurely pace, almost a crawl, until a major plot point. From there, the film, which up to that point is somewhat of a snoozer, kicks into high gear.

Certain issues in the screenplay are handled in a stereotypical manner: the role of the Catholic church in Ireland, the role of the media in society, and the role of adoption worldwide.

Stephen Frears directs "Philomena" in a straight-forward style, but not without touches of humor and memorable cinematography of Washington, D.C., and Ireland. Much of the story is told in flashbacks of what amounts to home movies, some of which were sensitively recreated and with some actually of the adopted son.

Steve Coogan ("24 Hour Party People," 2002, with some 29 writing credits to his name, mostly for television shows, many playing Alan Partridge), co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope ("Dirty Filthy Love," 2004, and known mostly for witing for British television shows), based on the book, "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee" by Martin Sixsmith.

Dame Judy Dench (supporting actress Oscar, "Shakespeare In Love," 1999; noted for "The Best Marigold Hotel," 2011, and as M in several James Bond movies, including "Skyfall," 2012), is a fine actress. It's a wonderful experience to enjoy one of her screen performances.

The role of Philomena gives Dench the opportunity to mine her acting repertoire of persnicketiness, wistfulness and iron-will. She's magnificent.

Steve Coogan maintains a look of perplexity throughout as the skeptical yet steadfast media man. In a way, Coogan and Dench are a sort of odd couple who alternately help and challenge each others' shortfalls as they try to find the son.

"Philomena" is thought-provoking and worth getting to know.

"Philomena," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.) for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references; Genre: Drama ; Run time: 1 hr., 38 min.; Distributed by BBC Films.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Philomena" was filmed on location at the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall, Washington, D.C.; Poolesville and Potomac, Md., and Rostrevor and Killyleagh, County Down, Northern Ireland, and Oxfordshire, and London, England.

Box Office, Dec. 6: It was fire and ice over the weekend and not only on the region's highways and byways concerning the ice and snow from the Dec. 8 snowstorm.

To paraphrase poet Robert Frost, "ice would suffice" at the box office, as "Frozen" moved on up to No. 1 in its third week, $31.6 million, $134.2 million, three weeks, knocking "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" from No. 1 after two weeks in a row to No. 2, $27 million, $336.6 million, three weeks, and keeping "Out of the Furnace" out in the cold, opening way back at No. 3, $5.3 million, one week;

4. "Thor: The Dark World," $4.7 million, $193.6 million, five weeks; 5. "Delivery Man," $3.7 million, $24.7 million, three weeks; 6. "Homefront," $3.3 million, $15.2 million, two weeks; 7. "The Book Thief," $2.7 million, $12 million, five weeks; 8. "The Best Man Holiday," $2.6 million, $67.2 million, four weeks; 9."Philomena," $2.2 million, $8.2 million, three weeks; 10. "Dallas Buyers Club," $1.4 million, $12.4 million, six weeks

Unreel, Dec. 13:

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Rated PG-13: The Dwarves are back in town. Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey continue their quest to reclaim their homeland, Erebor, from Smaug, the big bad dragon. Peter Jackson is back to direct, as are Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage and Ken Stott in the fantasy drama. "The Hobbitt: There and Back Again" arrives in 2014.

"Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas," Rated PG-13: Madea is the real Secret Santa. Tyler Perry is reprises his Madea role and directs the comedy that includes Larry the Cable Guy.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site,; the Times-News web site,; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@ You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.