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Stephen Frears demonstrates his customary flair for extracting brilliant performances in this moving drama starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

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  • Director Stephen Frears
  • Producers Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward
  • Screenwriters Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
  • With Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Ruth McCabe, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sophie Kennedy Clark
  • UK-France 2013
  • 98 mins
  • 12A
  • UK distribution Pathé

Demonstrating his customary flair for extracting brilliant performances and balancing deep pathos with cogent wit, Stephen Frears (The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons) directs this wonderful adaptation of Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. More complex in its texture and more surprising in its turns than most works of fiction, Philomena is the true story of an Irish Catholic woman (Judi Dench) who decides to find her son more than fifty years after she was forced, as an unmarried mother, to give him up for adoption. As scornful of ‘human interest’ journalism as he is distressed by the scandal that shortened his career as a political advisor, Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) reluctantly agrees to meet Philomena and hear her story following a chance encounter at a friend’s party. A true odd couple – the sheltered, elderly woman with a hearty appreciation of buffet dining and the dry, world-weary ex-BBC journo – Philomena and Martin embark on a journey together that takes them from a convent in rural Ireland to the White House in Washington DC. Revealing the impact of religious and political conservatism on the lives of both mother and son across two different eras (the 1950s and 1980s respectively) and counterpointing the heartbreaking drama with astutely funny observational moments, writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope create exquisite dialogue playing with the tension between Sixsmith’s cynicism and Philomena’s blunt naturalism. The film’s extraordinary potency is achieved as much through performance as through direction and story. Dench and Coogan know exactly what to put out emotionally and precisely when to hold back, adroitly navigating the tonal shifts between drama and humour and imbuing their real-life characters with depth and dignity.

Clare Stewart

Read the Time Out review.

Director biography

Unanimously regarded as one of Britain’s finest directors, Stephen Frears has always embraced a wide variety of styles, themes and genres. His first feature film was The Hit (1984), starring Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth. The following year he made My Beautiful Laundrette for Channel 4, which crossed over to big-screen audiences and altered the course of his career. Following this he made Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters (for which he was Oscar-nominated). His other films include The Snapper and The Van, The Hi-Lo Country, High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things and Mrs Henderson Presents. For his 2006 film The Queen he was again nominated for an Oscar. His more recent films include Chéri and Tamara Drewe.

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