Re:View - 'Philomena'

Christopher Fowler
_D3S7968.NEF Stephen Frears has always been a director with a conscience, and his best films reflect his interests. Here's a story based on recent true events that is every bit as devastating as 'Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God' (see earlier review), and better for being lightly fictionalised. I presume the horrible custard-coloured 'feel good' poster is designed to ensure that the all-important young aren't put off by the subject matter, but I hope nobody writes it off as a 'TV movie'. The journalist/ spin-doctor Martin Sixsmith was dumped from politics despite being completely exonerated - an idiot could see that his leaked email meant the reverse of what the papers implied, but
the damage was done and he retired to write a book. Instead he found a human interest story, something he frowned upon with the cynicism of a real reporter used to flying first class to serious Washington and Moscow assignments. His lifeline of a story arrives in the form of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an elderly Catholic lady who had been forced to give up her son to the nuns in the 1950s, enduring four years of hard labour for her 'sin' and having to watch in tears as her child is was taken away by adoptive parents. Her road-trip with Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan (for once, not unlikeable) is initially hilarious. She's all Mills & Boon, packets of Tunes, Harvester Inns and the peculiar mental processes of a sheltered lady coping with the modern world (although she occasionally comes out with neologisms that devastate everyone, such as 'bi-curious'). He's sharp-witted to the point of cruelty, impatient, held in check by a tough magazine editor sniffing out the tragedy in the case. What he discovers really couldn't be made up, partly because it relies on an extraordinary coincidence. Their findings are damning and the final confrontation, taking place in a tiny living room, is an absolute heartstopper. What is so shocking is the way in which the Catholic Church massages away criticism with tea and cake and smiles and very polite refusals to engage in even the most oblique conversations that it senses might be harmful, punishing the very people who supply it with money. It shows how a life of indoctrination can blind anyone to the truth; that it is as pernicious and corrupt an organisation as the Mafia. It also shows that you can make a small film about an old lady set in a series of drab lounges, and make it bigger in heart and mind and yes, tension than any Hollywood blockbuster. If it doesn't win the BAFTA for best film this year, I'd be very surprised. Expect plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and the embarrassment of crying in a cinema.  
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The Arts


Dan Terrell (not verified) Thu, 19/12/2013 - 15:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've read good things here, too.