Philomena - ***1/2 (94 minutes)


 Wednesday November 6, 2013
The great British director Stephen Frears' (2006's The Queen) latest is based on Martin Sixsmith's book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, which recounts the true life story of a mother who had the misfortune of becoming pregnant after engaging in teenage premarital sex in 1960's Irish Catholic England.  Considered a sinner, she was place in a convent where she underwent a horrible birth.  Then working as a slave laborer in the laundromat to pay off her "debt" to the order, she was allowed to see the child only one hour a day.  Later, she shockingly observes the nuns snatching the child to give him to an adoptive couple from The States. 
Many years later, Philomena (played note perfectly by the acclaimed English actor, Judi Dench), whose regret for the loss 50 years earlier has increased exponentially with her advanced age, enlists the aid of  Martin Sixsmith.  Martin (comedic actor Steve Coogan who also produced and co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope) is a recently unemployed journalist who only becomes involved after realizing that this human interest story for a local newspaper might jump start his stalled career.  Together, they embark on a journey that brings many surprises-replete with satisfying doses of humor and pathos that will also paint yet another portrait of inhumane treatment by the Church during mid-20th century England.   (The film brings to mind Peter Mullan's excellent 2003 film The Magdalene Sisters.)
Once again, another terrific score provided by Alexander Desplat (who has been AA nominated five times since 2007) is a welcomed unobtrusive addition to the excellent script.  Coogan shows remarkable restraint and believable skepticism while delivering enough subtle humor to keep the proceedings from becoming too maudlin.  (His pivotal scene at the convent near the end with the now reclusive nun who caused the separation, is a noted powerful highlight.)  However, it is Dame Judi Dench who steals the show.  The late movie bloomer, who enjoyed most of her career on the English stage, will undoubtedly receive strong consideration during Oscar time, as well as the film which is one of the best of the year. 
Philomena opens in Baltimore and limited national platform release beginning November 22.  
Philomena (Judi Dench) and Martin (Steve Coogan)
begin their quest for her long lost son