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Interview: Stephen Frears • Director

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"I would like the Pope to see my film"


- The British director presented his film Philomena at the 70th Venice Mostra, a delicious sweet and sour comedy with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Award for Best Screenplay

Interview: Stephen Frears • Director

The British director presented at the 70th Venice Mostra his delicious sweet and sour comedy, which delighted the press, according to the length of the applause at the end of the screening. Despite its dramatic theme with a true story as its backdrop, Philomena [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Stephen Frears
film profile
brings a surprising lightness to the first days of the Venetian competition.

You often described your affection for Ireland. Did this interest influence your choice for this story?
I have often said that I love Ireland, it is true. But this film is about a bad side of Irish history. It wasn’t my fondness for Ireland that guided my choice, but it is always a pleasure to work there... I came in last on this project. Steve Coogan and Judi Dench were already tied to it. It was them who really facilitated my choice.

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There are many comedic elements in the film. Wasn’t there a risk of interfering with the story by stripping it of its dramatic nature?
The true story is very tragic and humour was important to relax the atmosphere and bite the bullet. We did not want to make the account trivial, but rather to render it more accessible and moving thanks to humoristic dialogues. We did that very respectfully, because Philomena is an extraordinary person who suffered a lot and deserved a lot of attention. She also has, despite her age, a quite surprising sense of humour. The cynicism and critique are rather targeted towards the Church. I would like the Pope to see my film. I would like to get his opinion.

Your amused critique of romantic novels in the film is created by the melodramatic treatment that you apply to the story from a similar material... What attracts you in melodrama?
I like stories that have several layers. A dramatic layer for the base, a layer of romantic comedy, a more critical layer, and a more cynical one... It is my own way of telling this story. Others would go at it differently, like those novel authors who are referenced in the film. There is an audience for that, like, I hope, there is an audience for my film. I am all for universal satisfaction.  

How did the work with the actors unfold?
I had already worked with Judi and I knew how invested she is. Steve (Coogan) co-signed and coproduced the film, which guaranteed a de facto investment on his side. In reality, Steve constantly asked me to correct him. He was worried he would go off track and give too much space to his tendency for comedy. He would say: “if it’s too much and I start to rant, just make a sign with your hand towards the bottom...”. I did it on several occasions and he appreciated it. We thus had a language of our own and everything went on very well.  

(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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