Stephen Frears’ new film, Philomena, is one of the undoubted hits of this year’s Venice Film Festival, receiving rapturous applause and rave reviews across the board. Backed by the BFI Film Fund, it’s the true story of a mother’s search for her long-lost son.
Judi Dench stars as Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who – after becoming pregnant as a teenager – is sent to the convent of Roscrea, later having her child taken away from her. Her 50-year quest to find her son takes a turn when her case is adopted by political journalist Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan), who travels with her to the United States to help in her ongoing search.
Described by its director as an “odd couple film, an extraordinary road trip taken by a wily journalist and an elderly lady”, Philomena is already generating Oscar buzz. It makes its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, while UK audiences will have their first chance to see the film when it screens as the American Express Gala at the 57th BFI London Film Festival in October.
“We’re so pleased that Venice audiences are applauding Philomena,” says Ben Roberts, the Director of the BFI Film Fund. “It’s a film with an impeccable pedigree, and one that engages the heart and the mind. I’m sure that audiences at Toronto and LFF will laugh, cry and cheer in equal measure.”
What critics are saying
Is it possible to tell a good human interest story without descending to mawkishness? That’s the dilemma faced by the journalist hero of Stephen Frears’s new film and it is also, by implication, the problem confronting the drama itself as it embarks on its task of spinning glucose into gold. Thankfully, not every human interest story is trashy by nature. Not every happy ending is therefore also a lie. Philomena, which bowed to rapturous applause at the Venice film festival, is an ongoing, confounding delight of a film.
– Xan Brooks, The Guardian
While she can be terribly funny, Dench is also supremely moving in her role. There’s a scene early on where Sixsmith and Philomena first visit the Roscrea convent to see what news they can find, and the jovial mother superior tells them about the fire that destroyed the records. In a moment of staggering human intimacy, the actress looks down at her lap like she might just fold up and perish right there from the heartbreak. Dench takes your breath away, and so does Philomena.
– Matt Mueller, indiewire.com