Neely’s review published on Letterboxd:
This film doesn't really have a lasting impression, there is essentially nothing really wrong with the film,but it's missing something, a quality I can't quite put my finger on...
Philomena follows the intriguing story of a woman revealing a 50 year old secret and tracking down the whereabouts of her biological son. The premise itself is quite gripping especially since it involves the misdemeanors of the Catholic church, but the film tries so very hard not to step onto any body's toes. There is Martin Sixsmith who represents the logical, punish-the-nuns perspective and Philomena who is devoted to her religion and counters all of Sixsmith's arguments against justice in favour of forgiveness. I'm just not that sure what the film is trying to say with such opposing major figures in the film.
Judi Dench is so darling in the film with her polite politically incorrect dialogue and instant acceptance of her son's homosexuality. And Dench has never looked so beautiful and light, the casting is simply perfect on her part. I'm not a huge fan of Steve Coogan, but I can't deny that he is right for the part as cynical Martin; he is judgmental, harsh and unhappy which is better fitting as an antagonist rather than a companion to Philomena, but the two actors do work wondrously together on screen.
This film makes good use of flashbacks and forgos another mundane voice over, but the use of the home video of Anthony's childhood is ambiguous as there is no connection between the audience and the adoptive parents taking the video. Our only source of perspective of Anthony is through Philomena. The rest of the film is very insightful and even emotional, however like most historical adaptations, several significant scenes were added for dramatic effect.
Philomena is an excellent story of events if they are put on paper, however it doesn't translate so well for a film; there is a nice commentary on keeping secrets and an even more controversial commentary on the Catholic church, but ultimately this film isn't strong enough to give that lasting impression.