Awards Season: The Real Philomena

Shinan Govani on the Oscar marathon.

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She’s 80 years old, and one of the hardest-working people on the Oscar circuit: Philomena Lee, a.k.a. “the real Philomena”, as they’re calling her now everywhere from Dublin to Malibu.

What will “the real Philomena” wear to the ceremony at the Dolby Theatre on March 2? The dynamo has said she is going. Time to call Lanvin, methinks. And how is “the real Philomena” enjoying having Harvey Weinstein, the consummate movie pitchman, on speed-dial? She’s handling it all with aplomb, it appears. And purpose, too.

The ultimate Hollywood ending: that’s what happens when the woman whose real-life tale about her five decades spent searching for her son (sold into adoption against her will by the Catholic Church, in Ireland) ends up as a Dame Judi Dench/Steve Coogan movie and, moreover, a surprise Best Picture Oscar nominee. With Dench, in particular, noticeably absent from the awards season shindigs and rubbernecking—she’s said to be recovering from recent surgery—it’s been up to her true-life alter-ego to take up some of the slack. Whether in Los Angeles for the Golden Globes, where Lee got face time as a presenter and a spontaneous standing ovation from Emma Thompson, or Washington, D.C., where she met with officials just this week to discuss adoption reform, the unscripted heroine has been cajoling and charming everywhere she goes.

In some ways, I think, she’s been doing the best job since “the real Erin Brockovich” got caught up in the Oscar race rigmarole all those years ago, in the process helping her biopic portrayer, Julia Roberts, slide to her Oscar. While I don’t see this necessarily happening for Dench—who can stop Cate Blanchett?— it doesn’t hurt that Philomena is up for several other awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay.

I think the Dame is pretty remarkable in the movie. The year may have brought showier roles and trickier parts, but Dench achieves that rarest of things, here: grace. And the movie, itself, which could have been a barrel of maudlin, or just a play-by-the-numbers, is actually so much more: funny, sad, and deeply human.

Read more Awards Season stories.

Photo: Philomena film still, ©2013 the Weinstein Company.


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January 31, 2014