Mr. DuLacula’s review published on Letterboxd:
A manipulative film that tugs at your heart strings like a master puppeteer, but I loved it nonetheless. Based the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith it tells the true story of Philomena and her search for a son that was taken away from her 50 years earlier... by Catholic Nuns. Are you tearing up yet?
A character in the film actually puts it best. Martin Sixsmith's editor, played by Michelle Fairley (of Game of Thrones fame), tells him he needs to follow the story to the end because WHATEVER they find will be an great ending. The crux of the story is a mother searching for a son she was forced to give up 50 years ago, even the most mundane of climaxes to THAT story could be spun into an emotional one by a half decent writer.
For me though what made the movie so enjoyable were the character performances by Judi Dench (Philomena) and Steve Coogan (Martin Sixsmith). Philomena is a devout Irish Catholic while Martin, if you're forced to label him, is all but a confirmed atheist. Their awkward chemistry combined with some great writing gives you the best example of two intelligent real people of completely opposing views on faith coexisting.
They don't try to change one another, but their patience with each other is tested in realistic ways and ends with realistic reactions. Too often films like this are so bloody one sided that even if they share my point of view I don't enjoy it much. Here I feel both characters come off as real people, with real convictions, beliefs and feelings that I can respect even if I don't agree with them. Judi Dench is of course great and charming but it's Steve Coogan that surprised me the most.
I think it could be the best performance of his career as I never actually considered him a dramatic actor. One of his best scenes he plays without uttering any dialogue. It's in the hotel's food court when he's sitting with his laptop and Dench comes to sit with him. Every emotion and thought going through his character's head can be seen in his eyes and face. In that moment Coogan completely won me over. You'll have to see the film to find out what that scene is about.