Reviews provided by RottenTomatoes
Frears, in fine form at 72, has proved himself a modest master at juggling the serious and the silly in such actors' showcases as The Queen and Tamara Drewe; and the script by Coogan and Jeff Pope, brims with bright dialogue.
New York Post:
A witless bore about a ninny and a jerk having one of those dire, heavily staged, only-in-movies odd-couple road trips.
An utterly charming combination of road trip, odd-couple comedy and heart-touching true story that will leave few dry-eyed, "Philomena" rests comfortably in the lap of the great Judi Dench.
A howl of anti-clerical outrage wrapped in a tea cozy, "Philomena" applies amusing banter and a sheen of good taste to the real-life quest of Philomena Lee.
A sober consideration of how ideals relate to institutions-whether they're religions or political parties-anchored by two well-rounded, funny lead performances.
Director Stephen Frears manages to successfully walk the tricky line between comedy and dark drama. It keeps the audience off-kilter a bit, but in a good way; we shouldn't always need to know what's coming next, in terms of tone or plot.
J. R. Jones,
The story touches on some of the thorniest issues of Catholic doctrine and tempers its righteous anger with a tone more sad than bitter.
Christian Science Monitor:
If not for the expertness of [the] actors, Philomena would be a sloggy journey indeed. Fortunately, Dench and Coogan are more than capable of turning water into wine.
Dench is a delight, playing dowdy instead of her standard regal, and Coogan is appropriately droll and disillusioned. Together they manage to make a sad story feel somehow bright.
Judi Dench gives a remarkably well-realized performance.
Stephen Frears returns to top form in a touching, at times funny true story of grave injustice and a mother's search for closure.
Los Angeles Times:
Dench is not the only reason to see this unapologetic crowd-pleaser, but she is the best one.
We wouldn't care about any of this if the performances were weak. But both actors find complexity and depth.
Much of the beauty of Philomena, which was directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), lies in its odd-couple characters and the superb actors portraying them.
We prepared ourselves for an emotional explosion-not for physical violence, but for that of a bursting heart-and yet, when the time came, that is not what happened. Frears put the pin back in the grenade, as it were.
Coogan was raised Catholic and the hypocrisies and horrors of this story clearly hit him in the way they can only strike those who still remember weekly confession, fish on Fridays and kneeling, unquestioningly, at the altar rail.
Matched recovery stories: How's that for human interest?
New York Daily News:
The way these two talents connect - and strengthen Frears' tenuous tone - is enough to soften any cynic's heart.
New York Times:
Judi Dench's portrayal of a stubborn, kindhearted Irish Catholic trying to discover what became of the toddler she was forced to give up as a teenager is so quietly moving that it feels lit from within.
Orange County Register:
The chemistry between Steve Coogan as a snooty journalist and Judi Dench as a retired nurse searching for her son brings humor and warmth to a harrowing tale of the plight of unwed Irish Catholic mothers in the 1950s.
It's simple and well-told, although nothing about it is breathtakingly original.
It's Dench, showing how faith and hellraising can reside in the same woman, who makes Philomena moving and memorable.
A subtly told tale of tragedy and redemption, with much of the sentimental payoff you're expecting but several intriguing plot twists along the way.
San Francisco Chronicle:
Go beyond the manner of its telling and you find a story of cruelty and evil, of shocking acts committed under a veneer of civility and sanctity.
Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Judi Dench plays the title role in "Philomena" with her usual authenticity, which is reason enough to see it, but there are so many more.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Dench, Coogan and sure-handed director Stephen Frears ("The Queen") keep the focus on character, and in "Philomena" they've got an earthbound angel.
Director Steven Frears deserves special mention. A lesser filmmaker could so easily have turned this project into mushy, sentimental junk. The tear-jerking moments here are heartfelt and real. It's the kind of filmmaking we see too little of today.
Frears gives the story a slick makeover, blending melodrama and comedy with brisk professionalism and a hearty helping of schmaltz. But Dench and Coogan sell it well.
Globe and Mail:
What at first seems formulaic comedy gains a deeper resonance as we see how they represent two responses to cruelty and injustice -- first outrage, and with time, eventually, forgiveness.
Even as Philomena embraces the expected feel-good dynamics, it avoids taking the usual path and doesn't paint all of the "evil" nuns with the same brush.
Even if the film eventually forces a singular perspective on the material, the actors' chemistry absolves any number of narrative sins.
A terrifically moving film that has a fitting earthbound feel to it as well as a barely suppressed anger at crimes inflicted on the powerless
Watch both actors lean into characters seeking redemption; their clash is invigorating, with a mature payoff that has two minds meeting and getting further along.
Judi Dench brings the Irish-born Philomena to life with good humor and dignity. It's a wonderfully memorable performance by one of the acting world's greats.
This affecting, impressively intelligent drama follows one elderly woman's search for her biological son, who was sold without her permission five decades earlier to a rich woman who pets the boy as she might a cat.
New York Magazine/Vulture:
The movie is overcalculating and occasionally coarse, but it has a gentle spirit. We should count its existence as a blessing.
At its core, this clever, wrenching, profound story underscores the tenacity of faith in the face of unfathomable cruelty.