By William Wolf


Dame Judi Dench has a prime role in “Philomena,” showcased at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)--a performance that certainly ranks among her very best. In the film, tautly directed by Stephen Frears, Dench plays the title role, a woman who as a girl became pregnant and was sent into a convent in Ireland, where the children born of such “fallen women” were secretly sold to Catholic American couples for adoption. Having thus lost her son, Philomena has spent nearly a lifetime wondering what happened to him and searching in vain for the information.

Steve Coogan, who wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope based on a book by Martin Sixsmith, plays Sixsmith, who as a journalist is intrigued when he learns of Philomena’s story and decides to help her in the search for her son. They uncover the bitter truth about what happened in the 1950s to the young mothers exploited in such convents.

Philomena is a religious woman who isn’t interesting in exposing wrongdoing by the nuns who ruled the convent where she had her child. She only wants to learn about her son. But when faced with the hard facts about how she was deceived and time and again told that there was no information about him, she must make a choice.

Coogan, whose range stretches from being a comic actor to drama, is reserved and excellent here in the role of the investigating journalist, who befriends Philomena as well as pushes her toward taking action. The well-written film builds with suspense to its emotional climax, all the while serving as a vehicle for Dench to show once again what a magnificent actress she is.

The film also becomes a much-needed platform for exposing the horrors inflicted in such women cruelly judged for being unwed mothers. It does so by means of stark drama rather than polemics. It ranks easily among the best films of 2013. A Weinstein Company release. Posted October 14, 2013.


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