Finishing off my catching up of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture, I checked out this true story directed by Stephen Frears. When she was younger, Irish woman Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) was forced by nuns to give up her son, born out of wedlock, for adoption, with her also being forced into labour at the convent. Fifty years later, she seeks the help of journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to help her find out what exactly became of her son. Sixsmith proceeds to travel with Philomena in search for her son, hitting many dead ends along the way. However, as the truth of what happened becomes clearer, the story of the lost child of Philomena Lee turns out to be quite an interesting one.
There is a point early in the film when Martin Sixsmith is reluctant to help Philomena, since he considers her plight little more than a “human interest story.” To me, that also sums up the film as a whole. There is nothing all that spectacular about Philomena’s story, other than the fact that it takes some interesting twists and turns. The films is nearly entirely built around a great performance by Judi Dench, who most definitely deserves the awards acclaim she is getting. Dench shines by helping make Philomena a well-rounded character, during both comedic and dramatic moments. On the flipside, Steve Coogan is alright, though he is playing a much more straight-faced individual than the overtly comedic roles he is known for.
A question that surfaces over the course of Philomena is whether or not blind religious faith is a good thing. Religion was the reason given by the “evil nuns” for their punishment of Philomena for having sexual relations out of wedlock and getting pregnant as a result. Despite all this, Philomena remains a very devout Catholic, which somewhat confounds the atheist Sixsmith. Despite posing some questions about blind faith, the film is careful not to get too anti-religious in its overall message.
When it is all said and done, I can say that I enjoyed Philomena for the human interest story that it is. Even though I can most definitely say that Judi Dench is highly deserving of her Best Actress Oscar nomination, I will also say that this film is probably bound for “also ran” status in the Best Picture race. By no means is the film not one worth checking out, however it is not really a film that immediately comes to mind when I think “Best Picture of the Year.” I still recommend it though.8 | LIKED IT