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Philomena

Philomena film posterSynopsis

Based on true events where by Martin Sixsmith, ex BBC journalist, is approached by the daughter of Philomena to find her long lost son.  Philomena’s child was taken from her by nuns and adopted by Americans in 1955.  Sixsmith and Philomena  find out what happened to her son and learn that he visited Ireland.  Sixsmith gets past the secretiveness of the nuns to a showdown.  Happily there is closure.

Review

Partly produced by Steve Coogan, this film has a great emotional pull on us.  The relationship between Judi Dench as Philomena and Steve Coogan as Sixsmith is an encounter between two cultures as they learn about each other.  Sixsmith comes from the Oxbridge elite, all liberal secular values, journalistic cynicism, aquaintance with ‘spin’ (or fancy lying), and the journalistic jet set.  Philomena started as an unsophisticated Irish girl victimized by the ferociously repressive regime seen in Magdeline Laundries.  These were, in effect, gulags for young women who fell foul of rigid Catholic morality.  Sixsmith is all easy cosmopolitan quips, his body language is that of the successful investigator pretty well up on the tricks and foibles of those he’s investigating.  The world to him is a newsroom and he seems to own it.  Philomena is working class and unapologetic about her poor education, turning this drawback into the unruffled virtues of Christian decency.  As Sixsmith can’t penetrate this armour, he’s reduced to mild sarcasm and quick judgementalism.  Philomena has an instinct for the proud and cynical, the mutual incomprehension livening their culture class comedy routine.  Critics are keen on saying that films like this are moving because there’s some emotional charge between the characters, as if that should be a surprise.  Perhaps it’s because such critics adhere to the myth of journalistic detachment.  As in the film Magdaline Laundries we are made to focus on the worst that some of these nuns did.  One sister simply echoes Mother Theresa’s refusal of medical treatment to her charges, on the grounds that it “would delay their journey to heaven”.  Interestingly the film exposes our double standards over tolerance of religious intolerance, it’s easy for us to expose the crimes committed by Christians but we seem reluctant to expose even worse abuses (such as infibulation) which take place under the auspices of other cultures and religions.  Sixsmith also enjoys the luxury of vicariousness as he’s unforgiving of the nuns whereas Philomena isn’t.

Judi Dench is the real anchor of the film, she brings that same impressive presence she can use as a bad person in Notes on a Scandal and as James Bond’s boss.  When she is impressed by the privileges and people Sixsmith knows she summons a life of quiet patience and decency.  When Sixsmith tells her that he briefly met her son I wondered if he could end up being a sort of surrogate son for her. Sometimes nearly unwatchable as a film about loss and love.

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Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa film posterSynopsis

Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) is a music presenter or “disc jockey” in a north Norfolk radio station.  He plays the character from his hit TV comedy series I’m Alan Partridge.  Colm Meany plays an embittered DJ who has been sacked and he feels that the radio station has lost out to corporate suits.  Meany holds the station hostage with his shot gun, Partridge must go in and mediate.  Partridge only has to be himself and the results are disastrous.

Review

I’m Alan Partridge works as a comedy of observation.  Partridge is a small town social climber trying to be sophisticated, he only reveals his own pathetic lack of self awareness.  His jokes are leaden and mistimed, his dress sense is eccentric and tasteless, his appearance is that of a lower middle class ‘Wally’, (a British term for a socially inadequate person).  He is a sort of latter day Malvolio, someone who sets himself up without meaning to.  His anxieties are social class driven and he inhabits the world so ably satirized by the comedian Victoria Wood.  He is not clever enough to be effectively nasty but he is sordidly venal: he will stab a colleague in the back in order to derive some imagined advantage from doing so.  He is status anxious without being able to advance his prospects.  He crawls to his boss, and is cruel to those he cannot exploit to his own advantage.  We laugh at but never with him.  The details of this provincialism are microscopically observed to the point of cruelty.  It’s like poison poured on the film’s nerves, we can hear the acid crackle.  I think that Steve Coogan does a better job of this than Ricky Gervais in The Office.  Gervais wants to be cool, never can be, and is easily wounded but Partridge blunders on in his Pooterish way, leaving faux pas all over the place.  He isn’t even comparable with fantasists like Billy Liar who at least has the imagination to take life vicariously.  The problem for Coogan is being compared to his creation Alan Partridge.  One hopes he is secure enough to keep his critically observant distance.  It’s very funny.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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