Judi Dench, in fine, feisty form, plays Philomena Lee, a good Irish-Catholic out to find the bastard son the nuns at the Roscrea convent took from her half a century ago and sold to rich Americans while she slaved in the church laundry. The script is co-written by Steve Coogan, who plays Martin Sixsmith, the atheist Brit journalist who brought Philomena's search to light. Dench and Coogan lock horns with great humor, though director Stephen Frears (The Queen) never lets them get too warm and fuzzy. At its best, the film exposes a church that likes to sweep scandal under the rug and hypocritical institutions on both sides of the Atlantic that help it happen. It's Dench, showing how faith and hellraising can reside in the same woman, who makes Philomena moving and memorable.
From The Archives Issue 1197: December 5, 2013