HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:81
Steve Coogan is usually considered a type cast comedian in the United States, but surprisingly enough has a wonderful dramatic flair as well that tempers his goofy side. When I saw him paired up with Dame Judi Dench I had to cock my eyebrow in surprise. Had I not known better I would have assumed we were in for a much different viewing experience? The basic premise of “Philomena” is rather simple. An aging Irish woman, looking for the child given up for adoption 45+ year ago, engages the help of a sacked journalist from BBC news in hopes that he can help her find the now adult son. What makes the story a bit more saddening is the fact that this story is based off of the real Philomena Lee and her search for her son. Not only that, but her search is the same as hundreds of Irish women who are STILL searching and searching in hopes of reuniting with their wrongfully taken children.
A young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) has a child outside of wedlock, and as being shamed in her community, is sent to a convent where she basically becomes an indentured servant. Out of sight and out of the lives of the “proper” community. There, she and countless other “shamed” women are working 7 days a week under the harsh scrutiny of the nuns, only given 1 hour per day to see their children. To make matters worse, the sisters are selling the children off to wealth American families who are looking to adopt a child. Philomena’s child, Antony, falls to the same fate and is lost to Philomena for almost 50 years. Now, after this many decades of keeping her past indiscretions and loss a secret, she can take it now more and employs the help of publically disgraced BBC journalist named Martin Sixsmith (Steeve Coogan) to help her track down her child.
Martin is not very willing to take on the task of a “human interest story”. As a BBC news journalist this type of thing was beneath him, but now he’s lost sight of who he is, what he did for so many years and the need to make himself useful once more. So, after some thought and consideration he begrudgingly takes on the project in hopes of getting himself out of his literary slump. As the two aging people trace the breadcrumbs left behind after decades of abuse, treachery and cold trails they find out a little bit about themselves and are even able to track down the whereabouts of Antony in the Americas. Once there they find out secrets that Philomena (Judi Dench) wishes were not true and Martin’s boredom turns to fiery indignation and rage.
I was actually surprised at the twist in the film. My honest opinion was that they were going to go the age old clichéd route of having Martin end up being Philomena’s long lost child. Instead they twisted it around and made the film less about the journey but rather about the aftermath of finding out just what happened. Philomena is a simple character, and by simple I don’t mean stupid, but rather a down to earth woman, who makes you wish you could be just like her. Able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, unleashed from the shackles that complicate many of our lives by our own need to control and complicate things. Her reverse image is in Martin Sixsmith, a man who is involved in journalism and politics, two of the Most unsimple careers in existence. After years of being a political spin journalist he’s cast aside and left with bitterness and anger at what life has dealt him. Being around Philomena is a mixture of great frustration and a balm to his aching soul. The film is really about the pair finding out about themselves and creating a new beginning from a tragic ending in each of their lives. A rebirth, so to speak.
The film carries a bit of pathos with it, but it’s cleverly balanced with a very well nuanced story. One that stays simple on the surface, but deal with much larger issues once the layers of the onion are peeled back. Frears directs a movie that settles to your stomach with that warm feeling, not of clichéd sappiness, but rather a wistful sigh of want and desire for that sort of love. Instead of heavy handing the story line Frears lets it play out from the sidelines, gently nudging the viewer as they stare at the screen watching the reactions and actions of the participants as they untangle the mystery of a childhood loss.
Rated PG-13 on appeal for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=15262[/img]“Philomena” dazzles on Blu-ray with a literally eye popping 1.78:1 AVC transfer. Bright and cheery, it exudes color in every scene, with lush green hills of the Irish countryside and the bustling greys and blues of the English cityscape. Contrasts are nice and balanced for the most part, although there are a couple of scenes with blooming whites, most notably in the Convent and Mary’s home. The film shifts from two completely different filming styles, with the modern day sequences of Philomena and Martin in crystal clear digital shininess, and the older flashback scenes are shot with a heavy layer of grit and film grain, giving it a more drab and bleak color grading, reminiscent of Philomena’s outlook on life at that time. There are a few scenes that are meant to mimic an old VHS tape, but those are only momentary and used as an artistic choice. Black levels are excellent and inky as can be. There isn’t a LOT of dark scenes, but the pub and the convent both show some really deep black and excellent shadow detail. Excellent video is always a treat and Starz/Anchor Bay is no slouch here.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=15263[/img]Almost as excellent as the video is the 5.1 DTS-HD MA track. This is a drama and as a result this isn’t going to rival “Gravity” or “Transformers”, but for a drama track, its exceptional. Directionality is flawless as ambient noises shift from all angles, with the slamming of a car door, the crunching of footsteps or the chirping of birds in the countryside. Vocals are clean and clear without any balance issues and I was really impressed with the low end for the film. It’s not a wildly aggressive track, but it adds a weight to the track that pushes it above most dialogue driven tracks. Surrounds are used fairly liberally, but as I said, it’s a drama track and that means we don’t have that sense of immersion that other tracks can give. Philomena is an excellent track and it’s only real limitations are the genre that it’s in, not by any fault of encode.
• A Conversation with Judi Dench
• Audio Commentary
• The Real Philomena Lee
• Q&A with Steve Coogan
“Philomena” isn’t a perfect film, but it is a very satisfying one. Much like warm apple pie, it’s not a decadent treat, but you savor every mouthful and leave the table feeling very satisfied each and every time. The film is less about the dramatic search, but rather a film of creation, a story about love, loss and rebirth no matter what time of life. The great video and solid audio round out the trifecta and create a very solid release for Starz/Anchor bay and is one that I would heartily recommend, man and woman alike.
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Directed by: Stephen Freears
Written by: Steeve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA, French DD 5.1
Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay
Runtime: 98 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 15th, 2014
Buy Philomena Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
More about Mike