Philomena…Coogan’s ‘The Punch and Judy Man’

Philomena is a 2013 British drama film directed by Stephen Frears, with a screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, starring Steve Coogan and Judi Dench. The film based on a true story about Philomena Lee, who confides to her daughter that, 50 years earlier, she had given birth to a son in Ireland, but because she was not married she had been forced to give him up for adoption. Journalist Martin Sixsmith, had just lost his job as a Labour government adviser and wasn’t sure whether to take up running or write a book about Russian history. He ends up, somewhat reluctantly at first, being persuaded into pursuing the ‘human interest’ story of Philomena. What unfolds is an amazingly touching, horrific, forgiving and humorously scripted story, beautifully acted. Dench is nothing less than one expects from her, such a presence does she have on screen, lines delivered in a way that makes you forget you’re watching a film and actually observing somebody’s life.

I cannot recommend enough taking the time to go and see this film. I am not one to eulogise about such things often, unless its a nostalgia driven visit to De Niro’s or Brando’s back catalogue. Maybe I’ve grown up a bit, though it could be just a frame of mind I was in. That said, the realism of films such as this, how the story unfolds, the fact it is British maybe! Although, the Hollywood film Michael Clayton had a similar underplay and resignation to it.

Go see it, please!

I really wanted to touch on the subject of Steve Coogan here though. Naturally, best known for his portrayal of Alan Partridge since, like, forever, a lot of people don’t like or really get that character.

Therefore, it is easy for some to dismiss Coogan as a one trick pony. But for those who get Partridge and know something of Coogan’s own back catalogue, they know that the success of Partridge masks a back catalogue of particularly funny, crude, eccentric characters who reveal the depth of talent and observation Coogan has at his disposal.

Philomena is testament to this talent, both in Coogan’s performance on screen and the co-produced screenplay. As the title of this piece suggests, I cannot help but feel that this is Coogan’s ‘Punch and Judy Man’, the film in which Tony Hancock departed quite severely from his Hancock’s Half Hour on screen character.

Whilst I am not in a position to judge the two men in terms of their private life and the reactions to the films and them as people, in the same way that Hancock revealed himself (despite much criticism of his production) to have a darker story and deeper talent than simply a comedic character, this Coogan film achieves much the same in that it reveals a man deeper and more talented that he is perhaps given credit for. I hope, though, significantly less troubled!

For those of us who have grown up with Coogan and perhaps equally as much with Alan, this depth of talent, subtly and insight has never been in doubt. For those hoodwinked by their dislike of Partridge and taking this as a signal of Coogan being one dimensional, this film will make you think again. At least I’d like to think so.