Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Philomena: Blu Ray Review

Philomena: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Ent

Inspired by true events and based on a book, Philomena is the story of ex BBC journalist and disgraced civil servant Martin Sixsmith. World weary and cynical, and not coping with being out of work, Sixsmith is approached by a waitress at a party after she overhears him telling someone he's after a story.

This waitress' mother, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench in another of those turns where she can command a cinema audience with just one look) is racked with guilt at having seen her child snatched from her in Roscrea convent in Ireland by nuns punishing her for having had sex. Plagued by visions of him and unsure how his life panned out without her, the almost shrew-like Philomena wins over the cynicism of Sixsmith and they set out to try and find her son after 50 years.

But each have different motives - Sixsmith is being harangued into doing a "human interest" piece for a magazine which he's scornful of and she just wants to know if her son managed a life after being cruelly snatched away. So begins the Odd Couple style journey, with a clashing of religious ideology and differing worldly viewpoints...

Philomena is a dryly amusing story with an emotionally gooey centre which is, in equal terms, occasionally off-putting and deeply rewarding.

Plenty of sly laughs come from the culture clash between the two - one scene in an airport seesPhilomena regaling a clearly uninterested Sixsmith with the finer details of a trashy romance novel and revelling in her own naivete over how the story plays out. And Philomena would rather watch Big Momma's House in a hotel than head out to see some local landmarks during their global jaunt.

The problem with that humour is that it soon becomes a crutch for the script to fall back on; and the initial amusement is lost as the comedy is repeated for effect, damaging some of the goodwill built up by the more gentle and funny moments from early on. It's a crowd-pleasing plan but what it ends up doing is affecting the feel and poignancy of the story as it continues.

Coogan is serious as Sixsmith, with some dry lines early on setting the scene, but it's a once over lightly which impresses; equally, Dench is on a winner as well as she revels in the slightly twee innocent nature of her character (who even at one point asks if Martin can change her name in the story he publishes - she wishes to be known as Anne Boleyn) which begins to grate, no matter how much truth it's based on.

While the weightier issues of the nuns' behaviour are explored, there's never really a dark undertone which rises to the surface, despite the inherent nastiness of their past actions or the consequences for Philomena; if anything, this crowd-pleaser of a film manages to contain the outrage in a kind of syrupy shock that's a little easier to swallow, though no less bitter.

Extras: Making of, Commentary with Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope

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