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FLICKS: Philomena

Posted on 26 December 2013 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


In storytelling, the most affecting tragedy includes the tears of a clown. Shakespeare includes comic relief even in his tragedies. The terror of the original “Wicker Man” is made more horrific by the goofy characters and cheesy music that is played previously. Given his work in Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, Mrs. Henderson presents… and The Queen, director Stephen Frears knows how to balance the humor and sadness of Philomena.

When journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) loses his high profile job with a national newspaper in Great Britain, he begins slumming in “human interest stories.” Given his international career covering the fall of the Soviet Union, Sixsmith finds “human in- terest” stories beneath his standards. Desperate for income, Sixsmith gets in contact with Philomena (Judi Dench).

When she was a naive teenager visiting the county fair, Philomena had a son out of wedlock. Without parental support, Philomena is forced into indentured servitude at a Catholic nunnery. When the boy is born, Philomena’s maternal instincts kick in. One day, rich parents from Washington D.C. adopt Philomena’s boy, while the heartbroken mother continues to fulfill her medical debt to the nunnery. Fifty years later, Philomena wants to know what happened to her baby boy.

With a mystery afoot, Sixsmith and Philomena uncover clues. Why is there an unkempt graveyard of young mothers and premature babies? How does the Reagan Administration fit into this mystery? Philomena answers these and many more questions, but it is personal resentment and human interest that form this core mystery of evil. As Philomena, Judi Dench will provide Meryl Streep competition during awards season. Dench retains the grit from her previous acting challenges as Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, but with Philomena, the actress reveals a vulnerability not seen in many decades.

Best known from his British comedy performances, Steve Coogan co-wrote and produced this film. With low key precision as the straight man, Coogan lets Dame Judi Dench shine without shadow. With Philomena,

Coogan enters the next stage of British Royal filmmaking.

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