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Stephen Frears
Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Writing Credits:
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (screenplay), Martin Sixsmith (book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee)

These two unlikely companions are on a journey to find her long lost son.

When she fell pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) was sent to the convent to be looked after as a fallen woman. She cared for her baby for three years until the Church took him from her and sold him, like countless others, to America for adoption. Coerced into signing a document promising never to attempt to see her child again, she nonetheless spent the next fifty years secretly searching for him, unaware that he was searching for her from across the Atlantic.

Box Office:
$12 million.
Opening Weekend
$3,676,001 on 835 Screens
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 4/15/2014

• Audio Commentary with Actor/Writer Steve Coogan and Writer Jeff Pope
• “A Conversation with Judi Dench” Featurette
• “The Real Philomena Lee” Featurette
• “Q&A With Steve Coogan” Featurette
• Previews


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Philomena [Blu-Ray] (2013)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 27, 2014)

One of the more unassuming of 2013’s Oscar Best Picture nominees, Philomena delivers a tale “inspired by true events”. Set in 2002, Labour Party Director of Communications Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) finds himself unemployed due to a political controversy, and this leaves him adrift and unsure where to go.

In the midst of his soul-searching, Martin discovers Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an elderly woman. After they meet at a party, her daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin) introduces Martin to Philomena so he can tell her story. In the early 1950s, unwed teenager Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) gave birth to a son. Abandoned at a convent, the nuns took the boy away from her and gave him up for adoption.

This loss continues to haunt Philomena, and she hopes to locate her long-lost son. Martin agrees to help her in this quest so he can document the whole story. We follow this journey and how Martin and Philomena affect each other along the way.

At its heart, that sounds like a good story, but as told here, it doesn’t become especially interesting. Philomena drags because it simply doesn’t have 98 minutes of tale to relate. It takes its components and extends them past their natural breaking point, so we find one scene after another that lasts much longer than it should.

Heck, the entire investigative trip to America feels pointless from a journalistic sense. As depicted here, Martin finds Anthony with an Internet search and a couple of phone calls – couldn’t that have occurred before they left the UK? Sure, Martin wants Philomena to actually meet her son, but why not locate him before they leave?

Because there’d be no movie, and we wouldn’t get the endless interactions between Martin and Philomena. These serve to advance the movie’s primary narrative: its thoughts about religion. While Philomena gets sold as a woman’s search for her long-lost child, the film instead focuses much more on the impact of religion on people.

In that regard, it becomes pretty heavy-handed. While I won’t defend the actions of the church in terms of what happened to Philomena and others like her, the film delivers a one-sided assault without much to balance the scales. This isn’t a spiritual journey – it’s a criticism of organized religion without much fairness to it.

Even without that issue, Philomena would be mediocre simply because the narrative drags so much. As I mentioned, it lacks much of a story to tell since it spends so little time with the actual “woman searches for son” premise. Without much to do in that regard, we find numerous chats between Martin and Philomena, most of which revolve around her chipper optimism and his cynical pessimism.

That gets old pretty quickly, though the actors help make the result tolerable. Dench adds a little depth to a fairly stereotypical perky old lady character, and Coogan’s acerbic wit allows Martin to seem more likable and less smug than otherwise might be the case. Unfortunately, the actors can’t redeem the entire film. I like aspects of the story, and a few decent emotional moments occur, but we don’t get enough positive components to sustain us. Instead, we’re stuck with a lot of religion-bashing and plenty of long, slow scenes that add nothing to the story’s momentum

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Philomena appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a perfectly acceptable presentation.

At times the movie went with a somewhat airy feel, especially during flashbacks, and that could affect sharpness. Nonetheless, overall definition seemed good, with only a little softness along the way. I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes failed to appear. Print flaws remained absent, though the flashbacks offered a lot of stylized grain.

Like many modern films, Philomena opted for a fairly orange and teal palette. That seemed like an odd choice for a movie like this – usually action flicks go for those overtones – but the hues seemed fine within those choices. Blacks were dark and tight, and shadows showed appropriate delineation. I felt pleased with the image.

Should one expect a lot of sizzle from the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack? Nope – it remained low-key, just as one would expect for a character drama such as this. Effects tended toward general atmosphere and lacked any scenes to add real pizzazz; the various speakers placed us in different settings well enough but didn’t impress. Music showed good stereo spread.

Audio quality was solid. Effects came across as accurate and concise, and speech seemed natural and crisp. Music was lush and full as well. Nothing here stood out as memorable, but the track fit the story.

With that we head to the disc’s extras and discover an audio commentary with actor/writer Steve Coogan and writer Jeff Pope. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion of story/character areas, the script and the source material, themes, cast and performances, and a few other filmmaking topics.

It comes as no surprise that screenplay subjects dominate this piece, and those notes give us some good information. However, don’t expect a ton of depth, especially since we don’t find out a lot to compare fact to the movie’s fiction. Still, the track moves in a breezy way and ends up as a reasonably useful listen.

Three featurettes ensue. A Conversation with Judi Dench lasts eight minutes, 54 seconds and includes the actor’s thoughts on what led her to her career and some early experiences, getting into movies and other thoughts. We don’t learn anything fascinating but we get a pleasant chat.

For background info, we go to The Real Philomena Lee. In this two-minute, 47-second piece, we hear from Dench, Coogan, director Stephen Frears, actor Sophie Kennedy Clark, the real-life Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane Libberton. The reel tells us little of substance; it’s nice to see Lee but this ends up as a glorified trailer.

Finally, we find a Q&A with Steve Coogan. It runs 24 minutes, 17 seconds and places Coogan at a December 2013 Guild screening. He discusses the project’s origins and development, research and adapting the source book, story/character areas, cast and crew, liberties and some aspects of the shoot. Some of the material feels redundant after the commentary, but Coogan remains engaging and likable enough to make this an enjoyable piece.

The disc opens with promos for The Butler and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. No trailer for Philomena shows up here.

Between its plodding narrative and its heavy-handed moralizing, I can’t find much to like in Philomena. While its actors do fine in their roles, they can’t overcome the film’s basic flaws. The Blu-ray offers good picture and audio along with a smattering of informative supplements. Chalk up Philomena as a disappointment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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