Matt T’s review published on Letterboxd:
Judi Dench is adorable in this.
That's my main takeaway from "Philomena", a solid drama that blends heartbreaking drama with heartwarming moments fairly well. Oddly enough, the film does end up feeling like a human interest story that Steve Coogan's Martin is so opposed to telling at the beginning, and it doesn't necessarily leave a lasting impact on the audience like some of the heavy-hitter dramas this year have. But "Philomena" does what it sets out to do: tell a story that will undoubtedly elicit an emotional response from the audience. From anger to sadness to, ultimately, hope, this film somehow takes the audience through the full range of emotion without feeling too manipulative.
But Dench is the real star here. While her performance may not be as loud and dramatic as Cate Blanchett's in "Blue Jasmine" (who does give the better performance), I hope the Academy pays attention to Dench's work in this film. This is a warm hearted, loving performance that goes for laughs without becoming a cartoon and breaks your heart without becoming too theatrical. Dench becomes Philomena, and elevates the film to new heights.
My biggest problem was Steve Coogan and his character. While the film is based on a true story and, for all I know, Martin Sixsmith could have been just as he's depicted here, his character feels like a complete cliché and he's just not an interesting character worth caring about. Coogan also doesn't have the screen presence to make his character work. In a more comedic film, he'd be fine. But in a feel-good movie like "Philomena", he just feels out of place.
"Philomena" is a captivating story and a solid film. Judi Dench is magnificent, and the emotional beats work wonders. While I have my issues with the film, and wouldn't consider it in the same realm as some of the other big "prestige pictures" this year, I would not hesitate to recommend checking it out.