The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

On fury, forgiveness and the face of Judi Dench

with 11 comments


The face of Judi Dench shows no trace of restylane.

The camera comes so close to her face that I could reach out my hand and touch her and her wrinkles are distinct as mountain canyons, each one of them telling a story from a long life lived. And I think to myself that she’s not only one of my favourite actresses. She’s also stunningly beautiful in the way that no actress under 30 ever can be, no matter how many surgeries they go through and how much make up they put in their faces.

You sometimes hear that female actors run into problems once they hit the middle ages. While men can be just about any age, but for some reason the stardom of women starts to fade off as soon as the first wrinkle appears. Finding good roles gets trickier and trickier.

But if there’s one glorious exception to this, this must be Judi Dench. When I look at her filmography, I get the opposite impression. In the beginning of her career she appears t mostly have done television series and it wasn’t until she was in her 50s that she started to star regularly in movies. Like a good wine she only gets better the older she gets. That’s why I had some mixed feelings watching her departure in the latest Bond movie. As happy as I was to see her getting a more important part in the movie, as sad was I that this was the end of her life as M. On the other hand, there’s nothing that says that she can’t keep making movies for many more years to come. After all: The Queen Mother got 102 years old. Judi Dench has the same aura of standing above the natural laws that govern the rest of us.

If you fancy Judi Dench as much as I do, you should definitely see Philomena, where she truly gets the chance to shine. Thinking closer about it you should see it even if you’re not a fan; it might make you rethink.

Not primarily a comedy
Based on a true story, the movie is about a mother’s search for her child that has been lost for 50 years. As a young, unmarried woman, she was forced by the nuns in a Catholic convent to give up her son for adoption. Now, as an old woman she tried to track him down with the help of a journalist. Despite what was done to her, she hasn’t lost her faith, but is still a devoted catholic. He is an atheist and finds it hard to understand her willingness to accept and forgive what has been done to her. The film is focusing on their journey together, on their findings and their different perspectives.

On the posters, the film is marketed as a “comedy”. Judi Dench looks photoshopped. The wrinkles are brought down to a minimum and she’s got a weird smile on her face. Steve Coogan looks as if he just farted, making a funny face. This is not representative of what this movie is. The film doesn’t lack a sense of humour – there are some mildly comical moments and lines that brighten it up a bit. But it’s not primarily a comedy. It’s a piece of beautiful, touching and thought provoking drama. The fury of the journalist is juxtaposed against the forgiveness of Philomena. And what is best about it is that the film doesn’t take a side. It show to possible perspectives and leaves it to the viewer to decide which one to go with.

For being only 98 minutes long – short by today’s standards – it leaves you with a sense of satisfaction after being served not just a good, gripping story, but also some tasty, crunchy food for thought. And once again: Judi Dench at her very best.¨

Philomena (Stephen Frears, UK 2013) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

January 6, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Philomena

11 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I don’t think I actually ever saw that poster (or maybe I did and it just didn’t register – that happens) but I can only assume they were trying to cater to and, in turn, pull in the Steve Coogan crowd to something that is not at all – as you say – a comedy. It’s so much more interesting than that, and so much more than a piece of investigative journalism which is what I thought the trailer made it look like. Just one of those films that perfectly encapsulates the argument to see it before you judge it.

    And I love that opening paragraph about Dench.


    January 6, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    • Thank you for the kind words!
      Isn’t it sad to see marketing that you think is unrepresentative for a movie that you really care for and you know that the marketing might be offputting for people who would have been interested to see it, if it only had been presented differently?


      January 7, 2014 at 11:43 pm

  2. I saw this film last month as I had no expectations about the film but it was quite movie as well as quite funny. I just love watching Judi Dench and Steve Coogan together.


    January 6, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    • Yes, it was unexpectedly nice. I feared that it might be a bit too cheesy considering all the marketing, (sometimes there’s an unpleasant connection between cheese and a high amount of ads), but it turned out to be well balanced and intelligent.


      January 7, 2014 at 11:41 pm

  3. More fine work here, Jessica. This sounds very similar to Peter Mullan’s heartbreaking “The Magdelene Sisters”. I’ll certainly be looking into this.

    Mark Walker

    January 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    • Thank you! I haven’t seen that one, but it surely must be about the same sisters. And it’s certainly not a flattering portray, though I think the US critics who claim it’s anti-catholic are wrong. I think you should see this one.


      January 7, 2014 at 11:36 pm

  4. Fantastic post! Really looking forward to Philomena. I’m a HUGE fan of Judi Dench. She never disappoints. What a talented actress!


    January 8, 2014 at 4:10 am

  5. […] Philomena Judi Dench defies the natural laws. She only gets better the older she gets. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: