Esteban Gonzalez’s review published on Letterboxd:
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time."
Philomena surpassed my expectations considering I thought it would be just another pairing of two unlikely companions on a road trip (the terrible Guilt Trip comes to mind here), but I was surprised to see how well the two main actors played off each other sharing a great chemistry on screen and how well balanced the script was, allowing me to feel completely moved by the story. First of all Philomena is based on a tragic and upsetting true story, but somehow director Stephen Frears (The Queen) manages to tell it with such grace that it feels subtle and humbling at the same time. It never feels like Frears is trying to manipulate the audience through all the sentimentality, on the contrary he treats the subject with light heartedness. A lot of credit has to be given to Steve Coogan who adapted the script along with Jeff Pope (it's actually ironic that it was written by a "Pope" considering how bad the Catholic Church comes off here) because it is extremely well written delivering genuine moments with an honest tearjerker. The emotional weight was handled perfectly. I would have never thought a film dealing with such a dark subject could be so inspiring and uplifting, but it was mainly because Philomena decided to respond to the cruelty and injustice very differently than we would (which would be with outrage), and chose to forgive instead. That is how they turned a sad story into an entertaining and enlightened one. Simply put Philomena is a clever film with genuine emotions.
The film is based on the true story written by former BBC correspondent and political journalist, Martin Sixsmith (played in this film by Steve Coogan), The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. After a political scandal which leaves Martin without a job, he accepts to write a human interest story when he hears about Philomena (Judi Dench), a woman in her late 60's who had her son taken away when she was forced to live in a Catholic convent after getting pregnant as a young teenager in Ireland. Martin begins investigating her story which eventually leads to some surprising discoveries and a trip to America. Martin and Philomena learn several things about each other despite their differences and uncover some astonishing answers along the way.
Philomena is a highly entertaining and feel good movie which reminded me a lot of Saving Mr. Banks in the way the story was told without being manipulative and looking for the easy emotions. Steve Coogan and Judi Dench also proved to be quite a powerful duo in this enjoyable film. Philomena is also extremely well balanced, mixing genuinely funny moments with dramatic ones. It also includes mystery elements and the actual procedural part of the film is what hooked me the most. I enjoyed the way in which the discoveries were being made and how they reacted to each new revelation. Philomena is a charming film that deserves the four Oscar nominations it received. The two main actors are given complex characters with a lot of depth and they deliver brilliant performances, however the secondary cast doesn't do much more than get the procedural moving. Philomena deserves to be considered amongst the best films of 2013.