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Sometimes a film will surprise you by just how unexpectedly good it is. Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Liam, My Beautiful Launderette), with a screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, Philomena is one of those films. An extraordinary story about a woman's real-life search for the child she was compelled to give up for adoption fifty years earlier, it's also a marvelous character study of two highly mismatched people brought together by chance to solve a mystery with both knowing that the odds are very much against them. And even though this sort of story has been done many times before, Philomena not only manages to avoid cliche, it takes surprising twists and turns along the way showing that real life can indeed trump the best that fiction has to offer. It engages you from the very beginning, draws you further in with each scene until you are so deeply invested in the characters and their quest that everything that unfolds on the screen matters to you.

The plot begins with Philomena Lee (marvelously played by Judi Dench) , a retired Irish woman living in England with her grown daughter, staring at a small old photograph of a little boy about 3 years old. When her daughter, Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin), asks, Philomena reveals a secret she's kept all her adult life - that when she was a young girl in Ireland she had a son out of wedlock that she was forced, very much against her will, to give up for adoption. The details of her story are revealed in flashbacks in which we see young Philomena (a compelling performance by Sophie Kennedy Clark) held in one of Ireland's now infamous Magdalene Asylums, institutions run by various orders of nuns where many young Irish girls of the time were sent for getting pregnant (as well as any number of other "improprieties" such as engaging in prostitution, being promiscuous or sometimes just for flirting), becoming virtual prisoners - and slave labor - beyond the reach of the secular law and with no hope of appeal. She has been haunted by this her entire life, always wondering what became of her little boy, and finding her every attempt to find out thwarted by the implacable bureaucracy of the Irish church.

At the same time, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan in a deft counterpart to Dench), a former adviser to the current Labour government at the time, has just lost his job due to a minor scandal due to something he said. Given the sack in his mid-fifties, Martin is at loose ends, unsure of what to do with himself, vacillating between taking up running or pursuing a vaguely-formed notion of writing a book on Russian history. Prior to working in government though, Martin was a journalist of sorts, and while at a party an editor friend of his suggest that perhaps he should try his hand at doing a "human interest" story. Jane, who happened to be at the party, overhears this and approaches Martin with the story of her mother's dilemma over her lost son, thinking that perhaps he can help. Martin, who had openly said he wasn't interested in doing human interest story as he considered them nothing but fluff, brushes her off. But later, when pondering his options, he finds himself drawn back to Jane's idea. He gets her name and number from another friend and calls her to set up a meeting with Philomena, and soon they're off, going first to the convent in Ireland, where Martin learns firsthand just what Philomena has been up against.

I can't speak of what subsequently unfolds plot-wise without spoiling the revelations and discoveries that are made, but a lot of what makes the film so enjoyable is simply watching Dench and Coogan's mismatched characters interact with each other. Where Martin is world-weary, a bit cynical and of a suspicious nature, Philomena is trusting, irrepressibly chatty, and finds delight in the simplest things, all of which tends to drive Martin up the wall. But in spite of the first impression that we first get of her, as the film progresses Philomena reveals that she's far from naive about life, having moments where she shows a remarkably clear-eyed view of the world (particularly when it comes to sex). It's simply that she refuses to let the bad things that have happened to her color her view of everything else in life. But this attitude, while in some ways admirable, is not very helpful when one is up against forces that are deliberately trying to prevent people from digging up the past, and this is where Martin's suspicious nature proves its worth as he begins to examine the stories they're being told and openly question their veracity, a thing Philomena by nature is not capable of. But what truly works more than anything else is the way Dench's Philomena is delightfully funny even though she's not trying to be, completely oblivious to the way she's coming across to Martin, while Coogan's Martin is hopelessly inept at being funny, most especially when he's trying to be, one of those unfortunate individuals who cannot tell a joke to save their life. It's a comic chemistry of a very human kind, made completely natural by two superb actors at the top of their form.

Also worth mentioning is the beautiful film score by Alexandre Desplat that heightens the mood without intruding on or distracting from the events on screen, and the cinematography by Robbie Ryan that really captures the intimacy of the story and the characters involved.

On a side note, it helps if you can find Peter Mullan's 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, which is all about the Magdalene Asylums and their decades-long horrendous abuses of vulnerable young Irish women, most notably forcibly taking their children away from them and compelling the women to work in the institution's laundries which the nuns operated as a commercial enterprise, reaping the profits while the women working in them got nothing. The parts of Philomena that only touch on those abuses fall into greater context if you've seen the earlier film.

Highly, highly recommended as an engaging film on every level, a very human story worth hearing, and for the wonderfully mismatched chemistry between Dench and Coogan's characters.
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"Philomena" (2013 release from the UK; 95 min.) brings the story ("inspired by true events", we are reminded at the beginning) of Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan) and Philomena Lee(played by Judi Dench). As the movie opens, we learn that journalist Sixsmith just lost his job (Sixsmith: 'I'm depressed because I just go the sack'; his doctor: 'But it wasn't your fault'. Sixsmith: "that's why I'm depressed!") and is now contemplating writing a book about Russian history. Meanwhile, through flashbacks we learn that in the early 1950s Philomena became pregnant at a young age. Her parents gave her into care of the nuns at Roscrea Abbey in Ireland, where eventually her young son was given up/sold to an American couple. Philomena has been wanting to find her son ever since. Philomena's daughter convinces Sixsmith to take on this "human interest story", and off go Sixsmith and Philomena looking for her son. To tell you more would ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: Steve Coogan pretty much took on this project, and in addition to starring, he also co-wrote the script and produced the movie. I very much enjoyed his restrained performance. Even better is Judi Dench, now in het mid-to-late 70s yet seemingly better than ever. While the movie is ostensibly about Philomena looking for her son, the movie is actually much more about the at first awkward relationship between Philomena and Sixsmith, and the "fish out of water" experiences when Philomena gets to the US. The chemistry between Dench and Coogan is palpable, and it truly carries the movie (Philomena: 'do you want a N-Tune?', to which Sixsmith responds: 'if I hum it, will you play it?', ha!). But the last 15-20 min., when all is revealed, of course will tuck at your heart, so bring a Kleenex or two. Make sure to stay when the credits start rolling, as not only do we learn what became of Philomena and Sixsmith, but we also get to see real-life pictures of them.

I had seen the trailer of this a few times in recent weeks and couldn't wait to see it. The movie finally opened this weekend here in Cincinnati, and the Sunday matinee screening I saw this at was quite packed, and not surprisingly heavily leaning towards seniors. The crowd laughed and hollered at all the right times, and ate up this movie. Bottom line: while perhaps not the great, serious movie that one might have expected, "Philomena" is a moving 'human interest story' nevertheless, and worthwhile checking out, be it In the theatre or on DVD/Blue-ray.
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on May 24, 2014
Philomena is well deserving of the 23 wins and 41 nominations received. Based on a true story of an Irish woman's search for her son, the movie is a journey of discovery. Because it has so many twists and turns that will completely surprise you, I won't spoil the outcome. (Tissues may be required.)

The story begins with Philomena's encounter with a young man at a fair, with whom she has sex. As a result of her encounter, she becomes pregnant. Her family sends her away to Sean Ross Abbey in Ireland, where she gives birth at a convent that houses young girls who are pregnant out of wedlock.

During her time there, Philomena endures the harshness of working seven days a week and the constant condemnation of the nuns for her sexual indiscretion. Eventually, her young son and another baby girl are adopted by a family. For 50 years, she has kept the secret of what happened to her, even though she eventually married and had other children. In her mind, it was a sin to have given birth out of wedlock and a sin to have kept it secret for 50 years. She can't decide which is the worse of the two.

A journalist, Martin Sixsmith, decides to do a human interest story about Philomena's experience and search for her son. Her own attempts to find out what happened to him have been unfruitful, but with his journalist connections he is able to help her discover his whereabouts. They continue their search in Washington, D.C. It is here, that the story begins to surprise and shock its audience, but it culminates in a discovery you don't see coming.

The movie is filled with themes, mostly around faith, guilt, regrets, unconditional love, and the ability to forgive the cruelty of the sisters' actions. Unfortunately, Philomena is a woman driven by guilt of sins past and those present, which have been placed upon her by the church. Martin is a man who doesn't believe in God or understands the reasoning of the Catholic faith, and he often clashes with her beliefs.

The true story is also a very sad commentary of the practices of this particular Catholic abbey regarding their own lack of compassion and secrets. From 1930 to 1970 they housed pregnant, unwed mothers, buried the ones who died in childbirth from poor care, sold babies, and continued to make the girls pay for their transgressions with heartless treatment and hard work. In the end, it was a story that had to be told.

Judi Dench is wonderful, of course. She was nominated for best actress multiple times for this movie, and the winner of multiple awards. Steve Coogan humorously portrayed the journalist, along with his cynicism over religion and the church. At times, you chuckled over some of his comments and the sparring between Philomena and himself.

All in all, it's quite a good movie. Be forewarned it may challenge your beliefs.
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on December 30, 2016
This movie deserves Oscar all star winner. It was just nominated 4 awards.
Philomena(Judi Dench) is the name of the English woman who was grown in a convent by nuns.
When she was 16, she got pregnant and the nuns treated her as a sinner, took away her child, sold him to America.
After 50 years, she is desperate to find her adopted son and her daugher meets this journalist (Steve Googan) who usually writes other matters rather than human stories but finally decides to help her finding her son/ write a story about what happened back then.
There are severel or many of the same or similar stories already made from Europe but none of them touched me this deep.
Only Stephen Frears –FLORENCE Foster JENKINS, THE QUEEN, MRS HENDERSON PRESENT- can be possible made this emotionally so touching drama.
Also Judi Dench once and for all deserves an Oscar winner for sure.
She was not flamboyant or cried or shout or anything but she was so very herself all into the character. I was even wanted to see this movie a little more even during the credit is rolling. I wanted to see more of her life! Philomena’s life!
All of the Stephen Frears’ movies are so delicate and instant classic that you should just have to buy them and collect them.
Steve Googan doesn’t believe in god that much. He thinks that they are in some way fraud. When he hears about what happened to Judi Dench, he was so angry and that anger helped her all the way. I felt his justice.
When they finally have researched and even meets the lover of the son, they found out that after the son- he was gay and got AIDS- got AIDS, he visited the convent to trace his mother, they all lied by saying she abandoned him and never wanted to meet him.
He was even buried in the yard at the convent.
They thought that she was a sinner and deserved not to even meet the son even after 50 years apart.
May I ask what kind of a sin that she’ve made?
Had sex with a boy whom he loved at an early age? Is that it?
Is is so against god that she has to let go of him abroad not even knowing that the nuns are selling the baby to America?
Not even be able to meet him after he was succeeded –He became a team for the President Regan as a politician– and came back to meet her but they lied that she didn’t wanted to see him ever?
Sometimes if the movie is so real, the charactors are so great, as an audience, I become so angry as well at the fact.
But how she reacted was, I was wrong.
I am happy to know that I finally had a chance to retrace him.
Don’t blame the nuns. They did nothing wrong.
I was wrong.
But for Steve Googan as a man, he couldn’t help becoming so angry.
The very old nun still think that she is a sinner and what she did was all right.
After everything have been passed, they finally wrote this into a book.
It was all revealed into this book.
As I said, there are a lot of similar movies dealing with this matter but this movie stands alone so vivid because of the director Stephen Frears.
He knows how to cook two actors so well.
Judi Dench constantly talks about what she thinks, at the beginning it was kind of tiresome but as time goes by we begin to fall in love with that.
Steve Googan, a kind understanding man, a man with responsibility, brave and righteous man.
This movie deserves more attention.

Where to buy :dvd is 7.00$ , bluray is 8.59$ , Korea dvd is 20$

ART: 96/100
STORY 97/100
BOXOFFICE/FUN 95/100
MUSIC 96/100
ACTING 97/100
DIRECTING 97/100
SEXUALITY na/100
ACTION na/100
BLOOD/GORE na/100
CINEMATOGRAPHY 97/100
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on August 20, 2014
It takes a minute to get into this story. It's not filled with dramatic characters who are dynamic or comic. Rather, it's a true story of love, dedication and courage in the face of very challenging circumstance. No explosions or car chases. No steamy sex or slapstick antics. Just a very human story about people that you will come to care about. Dame Dench does her customary brilliant dramatic work creating a woman of more depth that you might originally expect. Steve Coogan, who also authored the script does an outstanding job of making a remarkably insensitive and aloof individual likable. No easy task. Keep and open mind and a box of Kleenex at the ready when you view this one.
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on June 10, 2014
I love almost every movie I have ever seen with Judi Dench in it even when she played "M" in the 007 action hits of recent years. So I was already sure I would not likely be disappointed. This is definitely her style and a perfect performance. She plays the part of a woman she had a son out of wedlock when she was quite young. She was forced to give the boy up for adoption at the insistance of a group of nuns who take her in. As an older woman some fifty years later she goes back to Ireland trying to find some trace or information on the son which leads her with the help of a journalist reporter to travel to the United States to find the son she lost so long ago. To tell more would be to spoil. It is finely done and worth a watch. I consider it one of the finest movies I have seen in quite a while.
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on April 18, 2014
Judi Dench is magnificent. She combines eloquent silence and chatty ordinariness to portray a character of enormous, almost unfathomable resilience. I can't even wrap my mind around the pain, the grief, the desperation, and yet she mustered the determination to survive, even thrive after the torture and anguish of her youth. Well do I know the unconscionable harm that has been done to women and children by the "grace" of paternalistic religions throughout time and still I am shocked and saddened by this movie. I, unlike Philomena who grants forgiveness to evil, would tear that convent down brick by brick and sell every stick of the contents to properly maintain that graveyard of teenage girls and their babies.
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on May 26, 2014
The movie is based on a true story of a Catholic Abbey of nuns in Ireland set in the last 50 years that took in unwed, pregnant young girls, basically turned them into a combination of prisoner and slaves, and then sold their babies for adoption mainly to rich Americans. The movie is mainly the story of one mother and son and their journey to find one another again before he died and the "stone wall" the Abbey put in their way. It is a sad movie, almost unbelievable that those that chose a religious life to serve God could be so rotten to fellow humans, but it is a very good story, well written and acted, with Judi Dench superb in the role of Philomena as always. Definitely worth renting.
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on December 13, 2015
This story will stay with you long after the final credits roll. I borrowed this movie from my local library after reading multiple positive reviews. I also think Judi Dench and Steve Coogan are wonderful actors. I was surprised to discover how heavy the subject matter is. The reviews I'd read made the film seem a bit quirky and heartwarming. The bright and cheery movie cover also lends an air of happiness. Philomena is a gut-wrenching true story that feels like it must have happened years and years ago. That this story took place in just the 1950s is unfathomable. I have since purchased the DVD and the paperback movie tie-in, and have shared, and purchased, the pair as gifts for others. When recommending this movie and book to someone for the first time, I always suggest watching the movie FIRST, for those who do not like "spoiler alerts" (for lack of a better term). The book contains many photos that give rich detail to the story, and they also provide a summary of the story arc. This is an amazing, yet difficult movie to watch, and I hope this review does it a bit of justice.
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VINE VOICEon March 11, 2015
This is a wonderf but very sad film that tells the story of women and one woman in particular, Philomena, who bore children out of wedlock in the 20th century. Judi Dench is without a doubt one of the finest actors ever to grace a film or TV series. Her charactyer in this film brought tears to my eyes and I have watched it several times. All of the other actors are superb too.
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