Friday, 10 January 2014


My favourite cinema in Melbourne is located on Collins St, tucked quietly away behind an open sunlit food court. The theatres are more private, clean and quite small - the smallest one having not four rows. The matinee showing of Philomena attracted a crew of about 20 elderly citizens. No doubt the appeal for that older demographic came from the title character Philomena. 
Naïve to the modern world and all its corruptions, Philomena is endearingly constructed and portrayed. She is the finest achievement in the film - Judi Dench's performance is pitch perfect, her portrayal of the central character is a true testament to her 55 years of experience in the industry. She is subtle and moving: as Philomena she is unwaveringly credible - from scenes of true heartbreak to the smallest joys. She is convincing in conversations, particularly with Steve Coogan's character (free lance journalist, Martin Sixsmith) which expose tiny corners at a time of her colourful character.  

Philomena is portrayed to be an elderly woman who has managed to remained kind, forgiving and trusting of the world despite being a victim of horrific betrayal. After falling pregnant at a young age, Philomena is sent to a Catholic convent in Rosecrea, Ireland. There she is "assisted" with the birth of her child but is expected to work in return and is forced to sign over the parental rights of her child to the convent. At age 3, her child is adopted and taken away from her. 50 years later, journalist Martin Sixsmith takes it upon himself to pen her story whilst aiding her in the search for her son. 

The film never wavers in strength on the acting front. Steve Coogan accommodates the comedic juxtaposition of Philomena's character to his own. Each supporting character from the frustratingly polite yet unhelpful nuns at the convent to the blunt, bewildered adopted sister is unexpectedly and uniquely significant. The story is rich and insightful, simple humours are provided here and there and the conclusion is thoroughly satisfying: appropriately sentimental yet realistic. Director Stephen Frears may be commended for all of these features. However, Philomena may also be described as a very "full" film. It examines the contentious issue of religion, it tackles cynicism and realism as opposed to naïvety and it touches on varying other controversial matters such as international adoption and even AIDS. Here, Frears has perhaps taken on too much: his enthusiasm for the richness of this "life story" may be interpreted as hesitation, a weakness or inability to pick and choose and edit in order to strengthen the plot. 

Philomena is far from perfect and is neither particularly original nor distinctive but the redeeming features more than compensate for its shortcomings. The film is as sentimental as it needs to be - successful in impassioning the viewer and thus significant enough to remember. 


Philomena has a wide international release and is currently in cinemas across Australia. 

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