Dench shines in true-life drama
(12A, general release, 98 minutes)
Director: Stephen Frears. Stars:
Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Mare Winningham.
Stephen Frears' touching and humorous drama is based on the true story of Philomena Lee and is graced by yet another outstanding performance from Judi Dench. She is Philomena, an elderly Irish woman living in England who is contacted by a journalist interested in her extraordinary story.
Actually, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) isn't all that interested to begin with: a former spin doctor in Tony Blair's government who has recently been canned, he's at a loose end and has only turned to journalism in desperation. But when he meets Philomena he's struck by her dignity and lack of bitterness and moved by the nightmare she's endured.
As a young woman in 1950s Ireland, Philomena became pregnant out of wedlock and was sent in shame to a convent in Roscrea run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
There she gave birth to a boy called Anthony and was put to work in the convent's laundry, no doubt to atone for her sins. When Henry was three, he was sold to a childless American couple by the nuns.
Philomena never knew what happened to him, so she and Martin set out for the United States on a moving voyage of discovery.
The relationship between Martin and Philomena forms the core of Frears' drama, which is hamstrung slightly by having to commit so closely to a true story. But Coogan and Dench are excellent as the mismatched couple and it's clear from early on that the journalist's urbane agnosticism will be no match for Philomena's unshakable faith.