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"Philomena"

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: "Philomena"
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Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench stars with Steve Coogan in a new film called "Philomena," based on a true story about an Irish woman's search for her long-lost son. Neil Rosen filed the following review.

Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench teams with Steve Coogan for a new film called "Philomena," which is based on a true story.

Dench stars in the title role as a woman who, 50 years earlier, had a child out of wedlock. For being a sinner in the eyes of the church, she's sentenced to the infamous Magdalene laundries - an asylum, really - where she pays penance for being a fallen girl. Against her will, her son, at age four, is given up for adoption.

These horrific institutions and their effect on the girls who were sent there was brilliantly examined in the 2002 film "The Magdalene Sisters." Here, the filmmakers come at it from a different angle.

"Philomena" teams up with a journalist, Martin Sixsmith, played by Coogan, who also co-wrote the screenplay, to find her long lost son.

What the nuns were doing back then, selling bastard children to wealthy families, was unethical to say the least, and their inhumane treatment of the girls who toiled away as slave laborers was a sin unto itself. The nuns want to avoid any kind of a scandal and aren't forthcoming with any information, but Martin uses his fine-tuned journalistic skills and starts to unravel the mystery.

The next leg of their journey takes them to Washington, D.C., where they continue their search. To tell you any more would be considered a spoiler.

As Philomena, Dench is outstanding as a lovable, unsophisticated woman who never loses her faith. Coogan also shines as the cynical and worldly Martin. An odd couple, their delightful repartee and great chemistry is one of the driving forces of the film.

It's a stirring, emotional powerhouse of a movie that's also filled with gentle humor. Brilliantly directed by Stephen Frears, it will move you, make you laugh and, if you don't know about the Magdalene laundries, it will also be an eye-opening history lesson. In fact, this heartfelt film is one of the best movies of the year.

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