The great sins of the 20th century are already too many to list, but let us note one more: the abduction of infants from mothers deemed unworthy or undesirable by governments and religious institutions. Thousands of children were kidnapped from leftist parents during Argentina's and Spain's dictatorships. Based on actual events, Stephen Frears's Philomena adds another country to that list, Ireland, where the Catholic Church carried out the theft and trade of children born to unwed mothers. This affecting, impressively intelligent drama follows one elderly woman's search for her biological son, who was sold without her permission five decades earlier. Given that grim premise, Philomena is remarkably funny. Steve Coogan plays Martin, a Labour party aide to the Blair administration who gets sacked for describing 9/11 as "a good day to bury bad news." He slums it for a while as a journalist and eventually meets Philomena (Judi Dench), who has kept silent about her stolen firstborn, Tony, until now. Already reluctant to speak ill of the Church, she bristles when Martin tries to pigeonhole her into victimhood. Philomena agrees to have her story told on the condition that Martin help her find Tony. With her Edith Bunker haircut and granny glasses, Philomena might well be in the same sewing circle as the "bigoted woman" who asked Gordon Brown where all the immigrants were suddenly coming from. But it becomes clear that "Phil" sits on a stockpile of wisdom that she squirrels away for a rainy day. The grande dame's performance, alternately goofy and grave, is an absolute tour de force.
Stephen FrearsJudi Dench, Steve Coogan, Simone LahbibSteve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Martin SixsmithSteve Coogan, Tracey Seaward, Gabrielle TanaThe Weinstein Company