Dame Judi Dench is very talented, that goes without saying. I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen her break out of her box, except in those old BBC comedies that are occasionally rerun on PBS.
Philomena is a movie that succeeds because of her, she carries the entire thing. It is another Awards-season movie that was better than I expected. Again, a very simple story, based on true events.
The movie tells the story of Philomena. As a young girl in Ireland in the 50s, she meets a charming young man at a carnival, and gives in to some carnal desires. This results in a pregnancy, and her being given over to some nuns to live, give birth, and raise the child. She makes the best of this unhappy situation until the child turned 5, then he is taken from her and given to an American couple. 45 years later, on what would have been his 50th birthday, Philomena decides to ask a journalist to help her track down her son. The journey is rewarding, disappointing, and devastating, but it’s Dench’s performance as it goes on that makes it watchable and engaging.
Philomena is directed by Stephen Frears, who had also done The Queen, Mrs. Henderson Presents, High Fidelity, Mary Reilly, and Dangerous Liasons. He does a good job with this movie, but again, it requires almost nothing from him aside from letting the actors quietly work each scene.
I personally first remember encountering Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love, then as M in the Bond movies. She is very much a tough broad, and lightens that persona up a bit in this role to bring a maternal desperation to Philomena. Her enjoyment at experiencing the United States for the first time is sweet, and her determination to find out what happened to her son, no matter how painful the result, is wonderful.
Steve Coogan, who co-wrote this movie, plays the journalist that assist’s Philomena in her quest. He is recently sacked from his government position and seems to have lost faith in himself and the world around him. Something in Philomena’s story pulls him in, and reinvigorates his enthusiasm for telling stories.
In reality, that’s about it cast wise. There are, of course, other actors who play the nuns, Coogan’s boss (Lady Stark), and the people that they encounter on their trip, but really, the heart and soul of this movie is Coogan and Dench, and their trip together.
The story is upsetting, and while the movie has a good end, it doesn’t really have a happy ending. I found it interesting, but it is slow, and I wouldn’t have ever seen it if it hadn’t been nominated. At least the real Philomena gets to have everyone know her story.
6 out of 10: Gained points for Phil harassing the Mexican cook in the hotel, or maybe charming him? Lost points for those nuns – man, they were evil.
Bonus Video 1: Chocolat – Dench is good in this, but so is everyone. If you haven’t seen it in a while – check it out. One of the few times I will say that the movie is better than the book.
Bonus Video 2: Shakespeare in Love – Dench was nominated for a best supporting Oscar for this movie in which she had about 15 minutes worth of scenes. Impressive.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews