Steve Coogan does cocksure arrogance better than any Brit, but lately, he’s steered a course toward complexity—and now he’s arrived at something truly great. Developed and coscripted by the star himself, Stephen Frears’s absorbingly complex latest takes the journalistic urgency of The Queen and adds a feisty layer of religious sparring, something you won’t find in American films. The combatants are Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), the real-life ex-BBCer looking for a comeback, and Philomena Lee (Dench, chocolate over iron), the devout mum at the center of his human-interest story.
They seek her long-lost son, taken from her as an orphan while she toiled—unwed and disowned—in an abbey. A trip to America bears its share of exasperated hotel-room humor, but watch both actors lean into characters seeking redemption; their clash is invigorating, with a mature payoff that has two minds meeting and getting further along. It’s a tonic to all the Oscar-season showboating: Call it Best Duo.
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