Jason Alley’s review published on Letterboxd:
A powerful, heartfelt film, based on a true story, about a cynical journalist (Steve Coogan, as great as always) who is helping a chipper old lady (Judi Dench, also as great as always) track down the son who was taken away from her 50 years ago, when she was imprisoned in a convent after getting pregnant as an unmarried teenager. (Did you see THE MAGDALENE SISTERS? Yeah, a place like that).
Director Stephen Frears has had a wildly uneven career, but he's made some of my all-time favorite films (HIGH FIDELITY, THE GRIFTERS, and DANGEROUS LIAISONS to name a few), and PHILOMENA is one of his greatest successes. This story could have easily been presented as Hallmark-style sentimental mush, but is instead an insightful, clear-eyed, funny, touching, and surprisingly unpredictable film with a pair of remarkable lead performances.
Very highly recommended for just about anybody, might be raised to 4.5 on a second viewing.