Director Stephen Frears (The Queen) teams with Judi Dench (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Steve Coogan (The Trip) for this powerful true story of an unmarried Irish-Catholic woman who, decades after being forced by her community to give up her newbornson, embarks on a search to find him with the aid of a BBC reporter.

In 1950s Ireland, Catholic authorities shamed thousands of “fallen” Irish women into giving their children up for adoption. Philomena Lee (Dench) was one of these women. After 50 years of fruitless searching for her son’s whereabouts, she solicits the help of recently unemployed—and unapologetically cynical—journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan). Determined to be positive despite the answers and obstacles that may lie ahead, the talkative Philomena shares stories from her past, savouring every moment on her journey to meet her child. While her quirks may test Sixmith’s patience, he will ultimately prove her biggest supporter.

Showing us her softer side, Dench gives a tour-de-force performance as Philomena, one that is perfectly complemented by Coogan. True masters of their craft, both share a natural chemistry onscreen, and their wry humour lifts the film’s more sombre moments. Frears beautifully balances these competing tones, crafting a film that illustrates the complexity of the human character. While revealing some of the darkest deeds the Catholic Church is capable of, Philomena also reminds us of one of its greatest virtues: forgiveness.

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