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After 50 years of struggling with a broken heart, a mother goes to find the boy snatched from her.
Review (with Spoilers)
With this and Nebraska, I will have seen every Oscar nominee for Best performance in a lead or supporting role and, to me, the lead actress category is between Amy Adams and Judi Dench at the moment. For, with Philomena, Judi Dench really does assert herself amongst the other actresses, who may have a higher profile, in terms of recognition over this season, but one thing the others lacked was an emotional complexity. Which leads me to talking about the film.
Characters & Story
Philomena (Judi Dench) is a woman who has lived a long life. She is a retired nurse, didn’t have much in the way of a family when a child, but now has a daughter, and perhaps other children, in her homeland of Ireland. One thing though has alluded her in this life, however, and that is her oldest son Anthony (Sean Mahon). But one man, whose life has hit a rough patch, named Martin (Steve Coogan), decides to take on her story and with this, we venture with Philomena and Martin as they search for the child sold off by the nuns who housed a young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark), and made her pay for the sin of sex before wedlock by taking perhaps the one thing she loved most at the time.
In the film, multiple times you will likely find yourself crying for the combination of Dench and Clark make it so Philomena becomes a fully developed entity. For, like with Saving Mr. Banks, flashbacks are used to help further develop the character, though flashbacks are used much more sparsely in Philomena. But, it must be noted that Clark does compliment Dench well enough so when every twist and turn pops up, and we think maybe she may find Anthony, or maybe things are a lost cause, you are mixed between seeing Dench’s tears in the modern era, thinking of the boy she lost, and Clark’s tears when Anthony was first ripped away.
And the story itself, which is based on true events, is well modeled for screen. It allows such complexity for Martin you can never be sure if he is passionate about getting back to work, after a BBC scandal, or if he truly feels for Philomena who treats him with such kindness, despite his rather brash attitude and consistent criticism of religion. Which also was something with a rather interesting take. Irish Catholic nuns, last I heard, have often been depicted in the news for less than favorable things, but perhaps this takes the cake. But, I’m not noting the nuns’ depiction for the sake of highlighting the nuns in the film and their cold hearts, but more so Philomena’s faith during the whole endeavor. For, despite how she is called a sinner and the nuns paint all her sorrow as a means of punishment, she still maintains her faith in the church and doesn’t bear hatred to the nuns, even after they circumvented her few chances to maybe have seen Anthony earlier in life.
But, amongst all this praise, honestly, isn’t much in the way of criticism. I mean, as an American, there were times when I didn’t understand a line or two because the accents threw me off. But, outside of that, which could be fixed with subtitles, there isn’t anything wrong. The film has a good time length, with emotional highs, and lows which bring you to tears, and the occasional twist which can make you think either a happy ending is possible, or perhaps the most miserable ending in existence will be seen.
Overall: Worth Seeing
Making for an overall film which is really worth a good cry. Dench reminds the world that life and human complexity don’t end once a person enters their twilight years. People, especially when they are older, are still capable of long-held secrets, indecision which can rock the nerves, and stories which aren’t aimed at them playing supporting roles, often of a comic variety as of late. And really, of all the Oscar nominated actresses for Best Performance in a lead role, only Amy Adams really is competing, in my opinion, and her chance of winning will be more based on her film work than American Hustle performance. So, since Emma Thompson isn’t in the running, if Judi Dench loses, I would only assume it is due to Hollywood politics.