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A Film Diary

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Watched: 7 September

Despite its slew of award nominations I missed Philomena – Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee – when it was on at the cinema. I’m not really sure why I’m so ambivalent towards the director; he has, after all, made a diverse range of enjoyable movies (e.g. The Grifters, High Fidelity, My Beautiful Launderette, Dirty Pretty Things, Dangerous Liaisons, Tamara Drewe, to name but a few), and I should probably pay more attention when his films come out (Victoria and Abdul is, as I write, in cinemas). This one features a warm, winning performance by Judi Dench as the title character, a woman who in real life became pregnant while unmarried in 1950s Ireland, and who was subsequently sent to the Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, whereupon her toddler child was cruelly taken away from her and sold to adopting American parents. Steve Coogan plays journalist Sixsmith, portrayed here as a man who – initially at least – is cynically after any old human interest story in order to get his name into a Sunday newspaper magazine. Dench exudes class as the older Philomena, worn down by years of being fobbed off by the highest ranking nuns at the abbey, while Coogan gradually and skilfully turns Sixsmith from a rather unpleasant and dismissive hack into a likeable and noble investigator with the bit between his teeth. Frears brazenly pushes the audience’s emotional buttons throughout, and despite some initial resistance to that I was eventually worn down by the performances and Alexandre Desplat’s mournful score, and indeed very much moved by the story. (****)

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