Sitting in the director’s chair for the 94 minute movie is Stephen Frears, who directed 2006’s The Queen. He got great performances out of Dench and Coogan.
The film tells the true story of Philomena Lee’s search for her lost son. After getting pregnant in 1952 as a teenager, her father sent her to the Roscrea Abbey. While her son was still a very young age, he was taken away by the nuns and given up for adoption to a family in America, where he was given a new first name as well. As we later learn in the film, he never forgot his roots and he returns home for his final resting place. Philomena would spend the next 50 years of her life to search for him.
Lee meets Martin Sixsmith, played wonderfully by Steve Coogan. Sixsmith is a political journalist and is planning to write a book on Russian history when he learns about her story. Intrigued, he sets up a meeting with her and soon sets off for America. This journey not only reveals the story of her son but the two also develop a close bond.
What the film does is compel a narrative both human love and loss while celebrating life. Sixsmith and Lee are at different stages of their life but they help each other. They are able to find laughter no matter how dark a moment can be. This just shows the power of the true story that the film was based on.
The book, first published in 2009, revealed what happened in the 1950s in Ireland. There are many Irish mothers that have yet to find their children while other adopted children are still searching for their mothers.
The screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope has already won a major prize at the 70th Venice International Film Festival. The film also took home the People’s Choice Award Runner-Up prize at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Whether these have any effect on the Oscar nominations is hard to tell. Dench has a powerful performance as Philomena Lee.
Philomena is not an Oscar frontrunner but is a major threat. Dench is a frontrunner and I expect her name to be called when the nominations are announced in early 2014. Coogan is a major threat in the category of supporting actor. There are many fine performances this year but not enough slots! Coogan, however, should see a nomination in Best Adapted Screenplay with Pope.