Published February 06. 2014 4:00AM
This film hasn't been hyped by the high-octane publicity of all those other Oscar-bait releases, but it's a small, quietly affecting story. The Academy Award-nominated Judi Dench stars, and, being Judi Dench, she gives a sterling performance. She's Philomena Lee, who became pregnant as an unwed teen in 1950s Ireland. Her family sent her to a convent, where the nuns took her son away and gave him up for adoption. Fifty years later, she meets a former reporter (Steve Coogan) who agrees to help track down her child. It's based on a real story, and, although some characters' motivations remain frustratingly shrouded, it finds great dimension in these central figures. The script, which Coogan co-wrote, leavens the serious subject with gentle humor, and director Stephen Frears, too, helps prevent the story from sliding into melodrama. Best of all, Dench and Coogan share an affable chemistry that makes you hope they'll star together in another vehicle very soon.
- KRISTINA DORSEY