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‘Philomena’ (Stephen Frears, 2013)

Stephen Frears has fashioned a thirty-year career out of these sorts of middlebrow dramas, though rarely are they anchored by a story as immediately compelling as Martin Sixsmith’s The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Unlike fellow travellers, the Stephen Daldry’s of this world and so on, Frears never milks the tragedy to play to the back of a room. He’s very much a film and television guy, no theatrical background pushing for those overwrought moments to hit the balcony seats. Frears is a better filmmaker than most of his British contemporaries because he services the material he’s given, whether it’s Nick Hornby, Peter Morgan or, in this case, Sixsmith’s book, he’ll shape the thing to fit its desired format and intended audience, and he’ll always underplay the big moment if it’s the right thing to do.

Aside from the best original score of the year (another bow for the unstoppable Alexandre Desplat), Philomena features two perfectly observed, tightly complimentary performances from the never better Judi Dench and (co-writer) Steve Coogan, both funny, charming, and knocking lightly through the journey without smoothing down those rougher edges around their characters.

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