Steve Coogan‘s career has always been overshadowed by a huge partridge that stand’s in the background. His most famous character has left everything else he’s done lying in the dust and if you were to question people on the street about his other projects they would probably come up short. Therefore, to see him tied so closely to a film like Philomena, where he both stars alongside the always fabulous Judi Dench and is also responsible alongside Jeff Pope for having written it, is a bit of a surprise. Director Stephen Frears is a more obvious fit with his previous films including the Academy Award nominated The Queen.
Philomena tells the story of the remarkable Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) who as a young girl fell pregnant and was sent to a nunnery by her father. There she was made to work to pay off her care and tragically had her child taken away from her and sold to a pair of rich Americans. It’s a harrowing story, made all the worse when you realise that this is a film based on a true story, and unusually for that kind of film has the backing of both of the central characters. The main thrust of the film comes with Philomena and Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) travelling to America in an attempt to find her child.
What makes this film so strange is that despite it’s dark and heavy subject matter it’s actually at times incredibly funny. With Judi Dench admitting that this is a side to Philomena that she discovered herself upon meeting her. Whether it be the old married couple relationship established between Philomena and Sixsmith or just Philomena herself, who despite her tragic past is on the surface a little old lady stuck in her ways, there are moments here that will make you laugh out loud even as you are wiping away the tears. Dench is obviously fantastic and you do feel like she has already received every award several times over, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this performance added a few more to the cabinet.
Meanwhile Coogan shows he’s more than just a Partridge, with a performance, that while not exactly complimentary to Sixsmith, is sure to ring true with most viewers. While Philomena takes what the world has given her, accepts it and forgives, Sixsmith gets angry and it’s hard not to want to cheer him on as he wishes to rage war for this incredible women who has been through so much. And it’s in that that the real heart of this film beats. This story is such an incredible one and Philomena’s character is so extraordinary that is’s impossible not to fall in love with her. This is a women who despite having the church take such a huge part of her life away from her is still a practising Catholic. A women who is stronger and more forgiving than nearly everyone you have ever met and Dench gets that across so perfectly. If you go and see this movie and leave without once shedding a tear you must be made of stone as this may be one of the most incredible stories you will hear this year.