Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Mare Winningham Dir: Stephen Frears
The film category “True Story” has always been the hardest to accept. There are so many interpretation of the words “based on” that the entire genre should be abandoned lest future generations actually believe what they see in a medium where commerce always trumps accuracy.
Philomena is an exception to the rule of “never trust a true film”. Of course, even with it’s impeccable credentials, it’s not “true”. Nothing is on film. But this one comes admirably close. It’s based on the 2009 investigative book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Sixsmith, in real life, is a fascinatingly flawed character and the film, and particularly Steve Coogan, should get full marks for not romanticising him or his motives.
The focus is on the ever-fantastic Judi Dench’s Philomena, who as a young mother of a boy conceived out of wedlock had him given away for adoption in the United States and was forced to sign a contract barring any inquiry into his whereabouts. Years later she meets Sixsmith; the rest is (now) history. Their spiky relationship is at the heart of the story and is expertly handled, as is pretty much everything on display here. Director Frears (The Queen, Hi-Fidelity) is equally adept at comedy and drama, and has a great eye for telling detail. Well worthwhile.