Movie Review: A solid story and great acting propel this drama. It boasts incredible talents. Director Stephen Frears (“The Queen,” 2006) helms these aspects in a refined, potent method.
Based on the 2009 investigative book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,” this real-life story focuses on the efforts of Philomena Lee (Dench). She was a young mother — only 14 — when a local Irish Catholic convent sold her out-of-wedlock child to a middle-class American family. Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) takes her story as a human-interest piece. He plans to help her find her son, but he soon finds Lee’s story is a fascinating one detailing another dark moment of Catholicism. Even more, their search for Lee’s son leads to some interesting finds in the United States, too.
“Philomena” is an unexpected treat. It gives audiences something new with each scene. This keeps the film energetic and moving at a nice pace. Just when you think it is at an end, it reinvents itself in a manner that leaves one in a continual cliffhanger state. They work and stay on topic. The film never loses focus through the multiple surprises.
Simultaneously, the film also works because of the always award-ready performance of Dench and a marvelous Coogan; they are exceptional actors. Most scenes feature them having conversations. During this process, viewers have a chance to know them and their motives. Although their on-screen personas’ motives may change, the characters remain true to who they are without jeopardizing believability.
A good example of this is the manner in which these characters see religion. Dench’s Philomena Lee is devoutly Catholic. She is woman of genuine faith. Coogan’s Sixsmith, an ex-Roman Catholic, sincerely does not approve of the church. He is antireligious. Yet these two people have an amiable relationship that works well on screen.
Audiences not only see them face tribulations, but we see them face these trials through a lens of religiosity. This drives the film in various scenes.
Frears nicely directs this moving drama about a mother’s search for a long-lost son. Coogan and screenplay scripter Jeff Pope co-wrote this piece. They make sure the characters are as important as their quest. For that, hats off to them, Frears and cast. This is an incredible story that stays with you long after you finish observing it.
Grade: A- (This is a moving tale about a mother’s love for her child.)
“The Book Thief” (Period Drama/War: 2 hours, 5 minutes)
Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Nico Liersch and Ben Schnetzer
Director: Brian Percival
Rated: PG-13 (Violence and intense depiction of thematic material)