Judi Dench was a near-annual presence in the Oscar race for a time, though it’s been seven years since she scored her last nomination (her sixth) for her remarkable work as an unhinged schoolteacher in “Notes on a Scandal.” I maintain that she deserved the Oscar that year, but she had no chance against fellow British veteran Helen Mirren, who won Best Actress at Venice for her turn as QE2 in Stephen Frears’ “The Queen” before bulldozing her way through the season. Which is funny, since that’s pretty much the narrative Dench is seeking to emulate with her titular performance in Frears’ latest, “Philomena.”
We’ve been hearing for some time that this true-life dramedy, set to premiere in Competition at Venice, finds Dench on awards-baiting form as an Irishwoman on a quest to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption as a teenager. The first trailer landed this morning, and it’s easy to see what the buzz is about — particularly with The Weinstein Company behind this one.
As befits a film written by Steve Coogan (who also co-stars as the political journalist assisting Philomena in her search), the tone seems lighter than the material might lead you to expect, but it’s obvious the 78-year-old star has plenty of dramatic material to chew on; it runs a little over two minutes, but you can already start counting the potential Oscar clips. It’s evidently a more substantial showcase than Dench and Frears’ last collaboration, 2005’s puffball comedy “Mrs. Henderson Presents” — which, of course, still landed the actress a nomination.
Reviews at Venice and subsequently Toronto will help determine whether this is simply a Best Actress vehicle for Dench, or whether Frears’ film, like “The Queen” before it, can make inroads into other categories. Obviously, it looks like an even stronger play for BAFTA attention — particularly with Coogan, set to rule the UK box office this weekend with his sitcom spinoff “Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa,” very much back in the UK limelight.
Check out the trailer below and share your thoughts in the comments. The film opens in the UK on November 1, with a (presumably later) US release date yet to be confirmed.