Stephen Frears doesn’t always make conventional movies, but he does make interesting films, including his latest – based on a true story – Philomena.
Some of my favorites among Frears’ films are My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things, Chéri, and now Philomena. This is quite a list, and it includes an impressive range of subjects and styles.
After seeing the harrowing 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters (written and directed by Peter Mullan) the oppression of “fallen” Irish girls was not surprising to me.
But, having an awareness of the history makes it is no less difficult to watch Pilomena’s pain as she recollects the past and searches for the son she was forced by the nuns to give up fifty years earlier, a son she has never acknowledged to her family and friends.
Judi Dench is thoroughly convincing as Philomena, a retired nurse of simple tastes and enduring faith. It is a joy to watch her inhabit the role with nuance and grace. She teams up with journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, who is Dench’s equal in his role) to try to locate her son. The interplay between the two very different people unfolds in believable and moving ways along their journey.
Sometimes a movie is not surprising and not innovative but still so beautifully crafted that it serves as a reminder of the endurance of classical storytelling when it is rendered at such a high level.
How refreshing it is to see a film this polished on every level – the script, the performances, the direction – to the point that there are no visible flaws, not even the slightest misstep.