Dench Makes Resolution In 'Philomena' Worth Waiting For

Nov 29, 2013
Originally published on November 29, 2013 10:42 am



The actress Judi Dench is in the running for an Oscar once again. She's starring in "Philomena," which hits theaters nationwide this week. Here's our film critic Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Philomena" starts with fun and games, but the more serious it becomes, the more it draws you in. The humor comes courtesy of Steve Coogan, who plays Martin, a British journalist who has lost his job and his bearings, but not his weakness for wisecracks.


JUDI DENCH: (as Philomena) I had a hip replacement last year, Martin, titanium, so it won't rust.

STEVE COOGAN: (as Martin) Otherwise, I'd have to oil you, like the Tin Man.

DENCH: Is that right?

TURAN: Martin is introduced to Philomena, played by the wonderful Judi Dench, who has quite a story to tell. She was an Irish teenager in 1952 when she found herself pregnant and unmarried. Her only choice was to be handed over by her family to the nuns at the Sacred Heart Convent. Philomena does daily backbreaking work in the convent laundry, and is coerced into giving her son away for adoption. It haunts her for a full half-century, until she tells her daughter what happened, and starts on the journey to find him. Martin, being the journalist that he is, senses there's a story here. He signs on to go to America with Philomena, looking for her son. What they find instead are Americans that bring out the worst in Martin.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We also have fresh pancakes.

COOGAN: (as Martin) Thank you. Trying to have a private conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My apologies, sir.

DENCH: (as Philomena) You should be nice to the people on the way up, because you might meet them again on the way down. Now, you, of all people, should understand that.

TURAN: As "Philomena" dives deeper into her son's story, the comedy fades away, and the film gains confidence in the strength of its dramatic narrative. Credit goes to Dench as Philomena. The actress brings an instinctive dignity to her characterization, managing to create someone who is both average and extraordinary. The film may be unsatisfying at first, but Dench's performance makes its resolution worth waiting for.


GREENE: That's Kenneth Turan. He reviews movies for MORNING EDITION, and also for the L.A. Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.