Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
She may no longer be able to read scripts and they may be failing her but the strength of character held within Judi Dench's eyes is glowing as strong as ever. Once again she brings a warmth and level of sincerity that very quickly encourages you to listen to this story about a little old lady from Ireland searching for her son.
Her partnership with Steve Coogan is essential to making this work as they are in almost every scene together from the moment they meet early on. There was a semi-serious joke in his buddy film The Trip with Rob Brydon that he wanted proper acting roles, to be treated with respect as an actor. Whilst he'll never scale the heights of the profession, he finds the right tone here as journalist Martin Sixsmith. His real strength today is writing and it is the script that provides the fuel for the odd couple to work so well.
Philomena doesn't shy away from the type of film it wants to be, wearing its heart on its sleeve. Crucially, you shouldn't feel manipulated by this true story as there is an essence of real sincerity in the way it is told. There are some musical cues pitched in at dramatical moments but nothing too overwrought, the emotions never feel exploited. In fact the moments that do well up the eyes arrive from its humanistic scenes.
The Catholic church are quite heavily demonised for their part in separating mother and selling her son for money, a practice that was common place many years ago. The past decade or so has seen the religion take a severe battering from one scandal to the next and some of that anger is vented through Coogan's script.
At the same time it does look at the conflict between those who do not believe in God, some of whom are cynical like Martin and those who place their faith in a religion without pause, like Philomena. Stephen Frears approaches these two points of view quite evenly giving both opportunity to express their view point, the relationship between the two allowing the platform to do so.
As a best picture nominee it certainly fits the bill for the Academy so you can see why it achieved such an elevated status. It's a touching recollection of how Philomena and her son Anthony's story came to be known, a brief look at the investigation to unearth the truth. Not one of the best films from 2013 but one of the most genuinely made.