Debbie’s review published on Letterboxd:
Philomena is an extremely charming film, consisting of the wonderful leads of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan -- about a mother's search for her son that was taken away from her 50 years ago. On the surface, it seems a manipulative film aiming to pull at your heartstrings - but although there are definitely moments of sentimentality - it is also an enjoyable comedic and dramatic ride into the telling of personal and true story of Philomena Lee.
The plotline is only fundamental to the charm of the film; the pacing is good and never seems to be over-dramatic. Philomena's humour and its heart is the most captivating aspect, and there are some funny moments that had me laughing (to the point that people started staring at me). The screenplay gives both Judi Dench and Steve Coogan the opportunities to exhibit their talents not necessarily in words, but also in expressions. Coogan gives a fantastic dramatic performance, and Dench - dramatically is excellent, but comedically - gives this film some real heart. The awkward juxtaposition of their characters, between an Irish Catholic woman and a cynical atheist man, has this odd chemistry that wrings out how such different people can coexist on such contrasting beliefs on the world. You relate on some levels with Coogan's character, but on the other hand - you also understand Dench's character's optimism.
Alexandre Desplat's score in film is just excellent, nothing to be critically acclaimed - but it pulsates in the right moments of emotional heartfelt and even in shots of a car traveling down the countryside. The memory flashbacks are probably the main problem I had with the film - they are the most over-sentimental part of the film... with the constant replaying of scenes, which eventually feels manipulatively used to create some sniffles in the audience. Nevertheless, the film pulls out of these bait memories through the chemistry between Coogan and Dench's characters.
Philomena is a pleasant surprise - with its comical moments and emotional heart -- both Coogan and Dench's performances make this film an easy delight to watch.