Steve Coogan can be a difficult actor to love. Sarcastic and arch, the British comic often goes down as bitterly as a cup of hemlock. But in Stephen Frears’ beautifully affecting Philomena, he dares to leaven his cynical humor with humanity. Based on the tragic true story of an elderly Irishwoman who enlists the help of a jaded former journalist to track down the son she was forced to give up for adoption 50 years earlier, Philomena feels like the kind of artisanally crafted prestige picture Miramax turned into a house style in the ’90s. Build it and Oscars will come. Judi Dench, of course, is no stranger to that genre. And she’s note-perfect here as Philomena Lee — a woman who grew up in a convent and helplessly watched as her baby was sold to an American couple. The devout Catholic told herself that the shame and agony of that separation was the price of her youthful sin. But it’s a penance she’s never made peace with. Coogan’s Martin Sixsmith is the erstwhile BBC reporter who’s just been fired from his government job and reluctantly agrees to help Philomena less out of kindness than because the quest will make a sizzling, sellable newspaper story. The class differences between the old biddy who devours bodice-ripping novels and the T.S. Eliot-quoting Oxford atheist are laid on a bit thick. But Dench and Coogan’s chemistry is undeniably great. In the end, he manages to give her the answers she seeks and she manages to give him a heart. A-
GET YOUR 'PHIL' Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan are wonderful in Philomena. (Alex Bailey)
Genre: Drama; Starring: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Charlie Murphy; Director: Stephen Frears; Runtime (in minutes): 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Posted November 26 2013 — 12:00 AM EST
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