Churlie Rurlph’s review published on Letterboxd:
There's been loads of buzz about this but from the trailers, plot and general idea I had of the film I had no idea why. Sure, it looks like a fair enough British crowd pleaser but I couldn't really see why people thought it might be an Oscar winner. Now though, coming out of the cinema? Well, I still think that. It was exactly a fair enough British crowd pleaser, and not much more. It's brevity is a strong selling point and there's certainly many people in the audience who found it far funnier than I did, but rest assured I did find Philomena to be a pretty entertaining, sporadically funny movie.
The key thing that surprised me though was that it was surprisingly interested in thematic exploration. While a film like this could be expected to trundle along, content to fill out it's desired storyline with jokes and the occasional poignant moment, what made Philomena work for me was the religious aspect of the movie, as it delved into what it meant to be Christian and the fact that the line between religion, devout religion and atheism is a lot less clear than many, many people would have you believe. I've never been too keen on rooting myself firmly in any camp on religion and it was a relief to hear Steve Coogan's character say the self same thing. I saw a lot of myself in his role, so what he learned through the story was surprisingly enlightening.
So I wouldn't dare say that the movie wasn't worth watching or wasn't particularly entertaining, it just in my view was a little too slight and seemed to have it's steering locked on the middle of the road, despite the temptation to delve into meatier material. As for the performances? It's basically a two-person movie with Steve Coogan and Judi Dench carrying all the weight, save for one scene roles from various unknown actors. Both of the two leads put in good performances, and while I found Steve Coogan to be underratedly nuanced as usual in dramatic roles, Judi Dench was as expected, reliable and interesting. Though there was far too much "Judi Dench is WACKY OLD IRISH LADY!" humour for my tastes, I can totally see that that stuff wasn't really meant for me so I'm not going to take it too much to heart.
Ultimately Philomena does what it promises but may become a victim of it's own hype if the buzz snowballs behind it when it reaches it's American release. I wouldn't count it out of the race completely as for the past three years I've said the films that went on to win Best Picture were "entertaining enough, but nothing special". Maybe that's just what the Oscars want? There's one thing for sure though, and it's that Philomena is the kind of film that a lot of people want. What about me, though? Well, I pretty much enjoyed it, and though I won't be in a rush to re-watch it myself I'll probably end up recommending it to my mum, so if she makes me sit through it I'll be okay with that.