Posted by: greercn | November 6, 2013


If you know the meaning of the names, you get new insight into Stephen Frears’ fine film.

Philomena means strong friend. Anthony means priceless. Martin means dedicated to Mars, who was the god of war. Mark also comes from Mars (and not Venus) but is of Mars, rather than dedicated to him.

All of which is really interesting when you see this hugely engaging British comedy filled with witty lines and warm human insights. The script, adapted from Martin Sixsmith’s book by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, pulls you in, breaks your heart and then repairs it. For a brief 94 minutes, you are enthralled.

The less you know about the true story, the better off you are watching this.

Steve Coogan is having a magnificent year and his portrayal of Sixsmith is terrific. He catches that bristly feeling of disappointment with life that plagues so many middle-aged men. The Oxbridge jokes are priceless.

Judi Dench is just so very believable as Philomena. Philomena was bundled off to a Magdalene sisters laundries place in Tipperary in Ireland. Her baby boy – who she called Anthony – was taken away and sold when he was three years old.

Sixsmith had lost his job spinning tales as a Labour government spokesperson when he stumbled onto Philomena’s story. You have never heard anyone say the words “human interest story” with quite so much contempt.

Yet the search for Anthony, with all its twists and turns, becomes a battle with Catholic secrecy. The scenes in the convent feel real, rather than contrived for a film.

Sophie Kennedy Clark is glorious as the young Philomena shown in flashback scenes and performs magically in the almost impossible feat of matching Judi Dench’s mannerisms and facial expressions. You forget these are two separate actresses.

But it’s Coogan’s strong comedy chops and flair for engaging the viewer’s emotions that pulls the movie together. He co-produces, co-writes and acts.

The Stratford East Picturehouse audience wept a little. I didn’t cry, but I was involved with the story, all the way through.

How many films make you care about people at dinner parties, in rural Ireland and in the White House? See it. It’s marvellous.



  1. Very sensitively done, very emotional, and enlivened by some excellent comic moments. Both Coogan and Dench are superb. And the sheer nastiness of the old nun sums up all that is rotten with Catholic doctrine.

    • Thank you for the comment! You’re right that the older nun kept a very creepy feeling through each of her appearances on screen. I forgot I was watching a dramatic recreation of events.

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