Philomena’s premise couldn’t be more hokey. Based on true events, the film is an odd-couple road movie following smart-aleck journo Martin Sixsmith (Coogan, giving off only the tiniest whiff of Partridge) as he investigates a human interest story about Philomena Lee, a little old Irish lady (Dench) searching for the child she was forced to give up for adoption after getting up the duff while training to be a nun.
Director Frears knows a tale this sweet needs plenty of sharpness. Instead of some sickly mismatched friendship forming (see The King’s Speech), the class/age chasm between Philomena and Sixsmith remains uncrossed – in fact, a thin veil of prickly contempt hangs over the relationship ‘til the final scenes. This salty-sweet flavour is enriched by a consistent flow of gags. But what makes Philomena so winning is the sophisticated way in which it condemns the behaviour of the Catholic Church without denigrating people of faith – a delicate tightrope act that has given plenty of more high-minded films vertigo. [Jamie Dunn]