Blu-ray Review: ‘Philomena’ starring Steve Coogan & Judi Dench

By Daniel S Levine,
Author Rating: 
4.0 Stars - Very Good

Philomena, one of the last 2013 Best Picture nominees to reach Blu-ray, has finally been released on home video this week. That means that anyone who missed this charming film in theaters can finally see it and enjoy one of the most underrated productions of the last year.

Directed by Stephen Frears, the film is really British writer/comedian Steve Coogan’s baby. After reading Martin Sixsmith’s story about Philomena Lee, an Irish woman whose son was taken away from her by nuns, he began the process of turning it into a film. While trying to stay true to the source material, Coogan, Frears and co-writer Jeff Pope added elements to keep the audience from getting bored and they achieved that.

After Sixsmith (Coogan) is fired from his government job, he begins a search for what’s next. At first, he thinks about writing a book on Russian history, but then he finds out about Philomena (Judi Dench). At first, he’s cautious, since he doesn’t like doing human interest stories, but then he decides to take it up after all. It could be that he’s just looking for a story to make religious traditions look bad, but the more he learns about Philomena’s story, the more interested he becomes. He realizes that this simple woman still believes in her faith, even if that was what took her son from her.

The performances in this film are really what keep you glued to the screen for its brief 98-minute run time. Dench is absolutely wonderful as Philomena. It’s impossible to see how anyone else could play this part. She really earned that Best Actress nomination. Coogan is also wonderful and a revelation during the more dramatic moments.

Anchor Bay released the film on a single-layered Blu-ray disc with a few neat materials. The Q&A with Coogan is essential, as is the commentary with Coogan and Pope. There are two short interviews with Dench and the real Philomena Lee also included.

Philomena wasn’t really expected to win at the Oscars this year, but its Best Picture nomination did the job, putting the film on the map. It is very good, but get a box of tissues ready. The performances are what really makes it work and a film to revisit frequently.



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