Philomena: Steve Coogan and Judi Dench hit front in Golden Lion race

The Guardian

Andrew Pulver, Saturday 31 August 2013

After delighting British cinema audiences with the big-screen debut of Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan could be in line for international recognition at the Venice Film festival. Philomena Philomena has emerged as one of the frontrunners for the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival as it had its successful world premiere on the Lido. Critics gave it a rousing ovation as it finished and one observer said it was “the best reaction … since The Kings Speech”.

The film is the story of an Irish working-class woman called Philomena Lee as she searches for the son who was forcibly removed from her by the nuns running the convent where she had been placed after becoming pregnant. Lee worked in an abbey laundry in Roscrea, County Tipperary, in a not dissimilar situation to the girls in Peter Mullan’s film The Magdalene Sisters. Lee’s quest, crucially, was taken up by former BBC correspondent and former Downing Street spin doctor Martin Sixsmith, on whose book the film is based. Steve Coogan, whose company Baby Cow produced Philomena, stars as Sixsmith, while Judi Dench plays the title role. The film is directed by Stephen Frears, who last came to Venice with The Queen.

Philomena is the latest in a string of films attacking the Roman Catholic church, but Coogan was quick to deny Philomena was a “polemic”. “Although it criticises the way the church as an institution behaves, it dignifies people of faith, in the shape of Philomena. An attack would have been too simplistic, and in these modern times quite an easy thing to do.”

“In all the things that have happened inside the church, it’s the people of simple faith who have been often forgotten.”

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