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Review: Philomena

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Looking for the lost child


- Stephen Frears returns to the Mostra with a delicious tragic comedy, which is already foreshadowed as a huge international success.

Review: Philomena

Sometimes there are magnificent stories floating in the air waiting to be grasped and told in the most eloquent manner. It was the case for “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”, a moving true story which became a book by British journalist Martin Sixmith. The latter is played by Steve Coogan in the adaptation by Stephen Frears, Philomena [+see also:
film focus
interview: Stephen Frears
film profile
, which seduced the 70th Venice Mostra where the film was presented for its world premiere in competition.

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Philomena (Judi Dench) hid the existence of a child who was lost for more than 50 years, but today, she wants to find this son who was taken from her for years of suffering in the Irish convent of Roscrea to be sold by the Sisters. Martin (Steve Coogan) just suffered a setback in his politico-journalistic career and Philomena’s story inspires him to write a book. Together, they follow the lead of this tragic but extraordinary story, filled with emotion, the questioning of faith and a human capacity to forgive others despite the injustices they put you through...  

Frears returns to the Mostra after the success of The Queen [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Andy Harries
interview: Stephen Frears
film profile
and it would seem that Philomena is heading the same way and engaging with the public since the director managed to transcend the dramatic bitterness of this story with a subtle cocktail of emotions, good feelings and a particularly well measured dose of humour. The screenplay is co-signed by Steve Coogan, who was also a co-producer, and his performance, on all levels, is delightful even though his talent curiously never found its international public. Biting dialogues, clash of generations and classes, and critique of the Catholic religion all blend in well into a theme already explored – in a more ponderous way – in The Magdalena Sisters, for example.

In this context, the exercise of melodrama was risky, but Frears, behind a simple and nearly basic directing, succeeds in creating a fundamentally popular but also precious film. While Philomena is first and foremost a “crowd pleaser”, it is also a nearly faultless work delivered to the European audiovisual landscape, which is still relatively devoid of good films in this category. The class of the actors really contributes to the story unlike the recycled music by Alexandre Desplat, which sometimes brings an overenthusiastic emotional polish.

That being said, Philomena transcends the news story and inscribes it within the heavens of beautiful and sad stories that move us through cinema. A coproduction between the United Kingdom and France via Pathé, the film is already scheduled for release in about thirty territories, including a US release orchestrated by the Weinstein Company.

(Translated from French)


international title: Philomena
original title: Philomena
country: United Kingdom
sales agent: The Weinstein Company/New York
year: 2013
directed by: Stephen Frears
screenplay: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Ruth McCabe, Simone Lahbib, Xavier Atkins, Charles Edwards, Neve Gachev

main awards/selection

Venice 2013 Osella Award for Best Screenplay (Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope)
Toronto International Film Festival 2013 
Mill Valley Film Festival 2013 
Hamptons International Film Festival 2013 
Hawaii Film Festival 2013 
BFI London Film Festival 2013 
Chicago International Film Festival 2013 
Austin Film Festival 2013 
Ljubljana International Film Festival 2013 
AFI Fest 2013 
Napa Valley Film Festival 2013 
Stockholm International Film Festival 2013 
St. Louis International Film Festival 2013 

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