Tag Archives: steve coogan

Film Review: Philomena

After having a child out of wedlock, Philomena Lee (Dame Judi Dench) was forced to give up her son by Catholic nuns. 50 years laters, journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) hears about Philomena’s story and helps her to search for her long-lost son.

When I wrote my review of Danish film The Hunt, I said that it made me incredibly angry, an emotion that very few films have evoked in me. However, it didn’t take too long for another film to do the same, and Philomena left me seething as I walked out of the cinema.

Philomena is another of those films inspired by a true story – it’s based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Steve Coogan’s character, journo Martin Sixsmith – and it’s this that makes the film all the more harrowing.

Without wanting to spoil anything, the film has its highs and lows, with certain groups portrayed less than favourably, namely journalists and the Catholic Church, and it’s the latter from which my anger emanated (although it’s not totally one-sided). What’s excellent, however, is that it doesn’t ram a particular message down your throat and, for the most part, lets you draw your own conclusions and pick your own side. At times it does feel slightly manipulative in trying to make you feel sympathy for Philomena when it really doesn’t need to; the general story does that by itself.

The two central performances of Dench and Coogan are fantastic and play off brilliantly against one another. For much of the film, they are very much ice and fire personalities, with Philomena’s simple, perhaps naïve, view of the world contrasted with Sixsmith’s much more negative (albeit probably realistic) view.

Despite the title, Philomena is just as much Sixsmith’s story as the titular character’s. At the film’s outset, we see him unsure of whether he’d stoop as ‘low’ as a human interest story but by the end we really see a transformation, and it really adds an extra dimension to the film. It would have been easy to just solely focus on Philomena but Sixsmith’s story is almost as compelling.

And what’s somewhat surprising is just how funny the film is. Coogan’s touch is all over the script (some lines could come straight out of Alan Partridge) and both main characters get their fair share of laugh-out-loud lines. It’s similar in subject matter to Peter Mullen’s excellent The Magdelene Sisters but comes at it from a much more light-hearted (but no less heart-wrenching) angle. This humour is needed, too; without it, the film could be very dour and a little too heavy, so kudos to Coogan and co-writer Jeff Pope for getting the balance just right.

After watching Philomena, you’ll likely side with one of the two main characters (I certainly did), and it’s this duality that the film hammers home, which should ensure almost everyone will come away with a different experience and opinion. It’s not always the happiest of films, but it’s filled with heart and at its most effective is one of the most powerful films of the year.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

When North Norfolk Digital radio station is taken over, DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) is made redundant in an attempt to reach out to a younger audience. However, Pat doesn’t take kindly to the news and holds a number of people hostage inside the radio station. Fellow DJ, a Mr Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan), is tasked with bringing the situation to a peaceful conclusion.

Alan Partridge fans (of which I am one) have been waiting for this film for a long time. Writers Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci have been talking about an Alan Partridge film for years but only now has it finally materialised, and any fans worried about Norfolk’s finest making the transition to the big screen, leave all your concerns at the door – it’s ruddy bloody brilliant.

Several Partridge familiars are present, including Sidekick Simon (Tim Key), Geordie jack of all trades Michael (Simon Greenall), and of course his long-suffering assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu), all of whom do their bit and fit in perfectly to Alan’s self-centered world. However, make no mistake, this is Alan’s film and Steve Coogan’s portrayal of Partridge is as glorious as always. Puffed up and cocky one moment, seemingly on the verge of a mental breakdown the next, Coogan has become synonymous with Partridge, and managing to successfully evolve the character over two decades is quite the feat.

Of course, as important as the characterisation is the writing and Coogan and Iannucci have delivered a script that is full to the brim with quotable lines and memorable moments. Alan asking his radio listeners ‘which is the worst monger?’ (fish, iron, rumour or war?) is just one example of the very specific brand of Partridge humour that is littered throughout the film and that has transferred superbly to the big screen.

Which brings me onto my gripes with the film, of which there are only a couple. See, Alan is at his best when he’s at his most mundane, when he has little going for him. In Alpha Papa he is at his most confident and buoyant, and that simply isn’t quite as funny. Similarly, in shifting from TV to film the situations he finds himself in are much more extreme than we’re used to seeing. Sure, it’s funny to see him with his pants around his ankles ‘tucking himself’ between his legs to avoid photographers, but it’s the smaller moments that have come to define the character – the walking along the motorway singing the theme tune to Goldfinger on his way to purchase 12 bottles of windscreen washer fluid from a petrol station, or simply explaining how inertia-reel seatbelts work. 

Naturally, Alpha Papa is a film that is only really going to appeal to a pretty niche audience, one largely based in the UK. Those who aren’t a fan of Alan Partridge will find absolutely nothing here to make them change their mind, but for avid Partridgites it’s a near perfect big screen debut full of moments to make you cringe and full-on belly laugh in equal measure. Lovely stuff.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons


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