'Like all the best screen actors, Judi Dench’s face is a kind of pun, working on two levels at once, both twinkly and tart, like someone handing you a Christmas present while sucking on a lemon. Our first sight of her in Stephen Frears new film, Philomena, that face is lit by church candlelight, her eyes brimming, whether from an excess of human kindness or some private pain is hard to say. Best known in the UK as a sherry-dry sitcom comedienne before she starting playing crusty English monarchs in Shakespeare in Love and Mrs Brown, she here mixes it up a little for American audiences for the first time. Her Philomena is an ununflappable old dear who boasts of her titanium hips and recounts the plots of whatever bodice-ripper she happens to be reading with a comprehensiveness that rivals that of their author. Coogan’s reaction as he listens, sat in the back seat of an electric cart leading them towards a transatlantic flight — “Oh there’s a series of them” — is an unimprovable modulation of polite agony. It’s Coogan’s best dramatic role to date. Until now he’s had the kind of disjointed, slightly agonized career traditional for British comics trying to make it in the movie business — his haggard, death’s-door lugubriousness is an odd fit for Hollywood, and seemed most at home putting all dramatic pretense aside in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, a mockumentary in which Coogan bantered his way around a series of restaurants in the British Midlands with comic Rob Brydon. If anything, Dench is an even better foil for Coogan than Brydon. Any worry that the role pushes the upper limits of her saintliness are offset by some of the unexpectedly salty dialogue she is given, happily detailing her sexual exploits in great detail to a dismayed Coogan, prompting him to mutter “fucking Catholics” — the zinger of the film, accurately summarizing both its back-story, and the vein of anti-clerical anger running through the script.'
Nov 23, 2013
REVIEW: Philomena (dir. Frears)
From my Guardian review:—