Blog Directory CineVerse: A Dench to quench our movie thirst

A Dench to quench our movie thirst

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan make for an odd but inspired pairing in Stephen Frears' "Philomena," a 2013 film that mines yet another Catholic church scandal for dramatic pathos. Part buddy picture, part road movie, part detective mystery, part tragedy, this film explores the fine line between anger and acceptance and fashions two character arcs that are complex and credible. For a roundup of major discussion points about "Philomena" during last night's CineVerse meeting, read on.


  • It deftly balances tonal shifts, from gripping drama and deep sadness to absurd hilarity and oddball levity. It could easily be categorized as both a comedy and a drama. New York Times reviewer Stephen Holding contended that “it is a comedic road movie, a detective story, an infuriated anticlerical screed, and an inquiry into faith and the limitations of reason, all rolled together.” 
  • Philomena as a character is not predictable or stereotypical. Despite being oppressed and unfairly separated from her child, she is willing to forgive; she finds humor in many situations when others would be bitter and angry; she is tolerant of her son being gay, regardless of the fact that her religion would frown upon it. 
  • For framing itself early on as a mystery, the mystery is resolved within the first third of the film—perhaps quite unexpectedly. The intrigue here is less about what happened to Philomena’s son but why it occurred and how she’s coped with it. 
  • Also, while the initial allure of the story here is the mystery and investigation, the real payoff is the pairing of these two disparate sleuths and their chemistry or lack thereof. 
  • The movie avoids trying to proselytize for or against faith or religion, but rather tries to show how such beliefs impact human lives.
  • Forgiveness, which comes from faith and is in contrast to outrage 
  • Social injustice—how Britain’s class system led to lesser rights and fewer options for the underprivileged and socially stigmatized in bygone times 
  • The power and impact of a dark secret. Philomena, her late son and Martin each have something they’re hiding or ashamed of that drives the story (having premarital sex and a child out of wedlock, being homosexual, and being fired from your job, respectively). 
  • The synergistic odd couple. Consider how these opposites can find common ground. Philomena and Martin are opposites in many ways—including gender, age, education, upbringing, and beliefs. Yet, they accomplish much as a team. 
  • Everyday simple folk can often be the most complex, sophisticated and mysterious; consider how Philomena is contrasted against the more cultured and snobbish Martin. She also tells him: “Just because you’re (flying) first class doesn’t make you a first-class person,” and “You should be nicer to people on the way up.” 
  • Oppression spans all boundaries, eras and cultural divides: The film “also has a surprising political subtext in its comparison of the church’s oppression and punishment of unmarried sex — what the convent’s harsh mother superior denounces as ‘carnal incontinence’ — with homophobia and the United States government’s reluctance to deal with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Philomena recalls sensing that her son, even when he was a tot, would grow up to be gay,” wrote Holding. 
  • The Magdalene Sisters 
  • Pride 
  • Losing Isaiah 
  • My Beautiful Laundrette 
  • Dangerous Liaisons 
  • The Grifters 
  • High Fidelity 
  • Dirty Pretty Things 
  • The Queen

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