Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in Stephen Frears newest film, Philomena. Dench plays the titular Philomena (or Phil to her friends), a woman who after 50 years decides to find her son, who she was forced to give up for adoption after conceiving the child outside of marriage. Along for the ride and to document her story is the reluctant former BBC broadcaster Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan).
After Frears’ less than inspiring Lay the Favourite and Cheri, comes his adaptation of Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee -and it reminds us of Frears’ deft ability to nurture wonderful performances from his actors.
While clearly -as this film proves -Steve Coogan is a very good actor, the characters he play rarely escape the ominous shadow of Alan Partidge. No doubt the line between character and actor is blurred, but here Frears has captured a performance which never once recalls or reminds of Norfolk’s finest. (Coogan also deserves high praise, what with him co-writing the screenplay.)
Philomena is a rather clichÃ©d character, Dench doesn’t have much to do other than to play the sweet old lady. You know the sort, the elderly character who blurts out exactly what she’s thinking and sometimes that’s somewhat inappropriate. Interestingly here though, unlike Maggie Smith’s character in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, there are no Daily Mail inspired slurs -or rather they’re kept to the very bare minimum. I will, however, concede, that a certain joke about men who wear dungarees did make me chuckle.
Despite Dench’s character being stereotypical, it works perfectly when countered by Coogan’s own clichÃ©d -the bitter and cynical, down-on his-luck -journalist.
The film skips along at a merry pace, taking in visits to Ireland and America on the hunt for Philomeana’s long lost son. Yes, it’s rather predictable, but it’s also very enjoyable, a film that isn’t afraid to make the most of its ‘odd couple’, and Dench and Coogan clearly relished the opportunity.