"“Survives on its fascinating story, as one that is emotionally very rich...”"

In the masterful British comedy series The Trip, Steve Coogan spends a lot of his time agonising and lamenting his lack of serious, Hollywood roles. Well, his latest offering proves that he doesn't need to head over to America to get cast in poignant films, because he can play these roles over here, as the character actor this time tackles that of journalist Martin Sixsmith, in Stephen Frears' Philomena.

As a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and an advisor to the Labour government, Sixsmith finds himself at a loose end, struggling to find a project to excite and inspire him. However when the prospect of doing a real-life piece of journalism is suggested, he finds himself fascinated by the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), who was separated from her son when he was just an infant, and now, fifty years on, she wants to be reconnected. Growing up at strict convent in Ireland, her child Anthony was taken away and sold on to an American couple, as punishment for her having sex outside of marriage. This news sends the unlikely pair over to the States to search for a man they know absolutely nothing about.

Philomena may be a mere real-life story on the surface, but there is much depth to this title, with religion, faith and traditionalism key themes within this picture. It's very much of The King's Speech ilk, Frears evidently knows his target audience and adheres to their taste impeccably, as a film that is exceedingly British, and complete with a similarly charming Alexandre Desplat score.

Dench steals the show with a brilliantly sincere performance as the immensely likeable Philomena, as a well-crafted character, and one that reminds us all of a little old lady we've met before – one who is harmlessly, and endearingly, ignorant and stuck in her ways. Coogan impresses too, though sadly his performances suffers from the same issue that comes with his other biopic outings (The Look of Love, 24 Hour Party People), as given his distinct, identifiable personality, you struggle to believe he's somebody else who genuinely exists. His writing credentials prove dividend though, as this screenplay (which he co-wrote with Jeff Pope) is blessed with a degree of humour, and several memorable one liners. Such an approach works well as a gently balanced counterpart to the tragic narrative, finding a comfortable middle ground between the two, even if at times the inclination to be comedic does deviate away from the severity of the matter at hand.

Philomena mostly survives on its fascinating story, as one that is emotionally very rich, even if it presented in a somewhat cliched way at times. It's a moving tale – and though not particularly unsubtle, the amiable tone and strong leading performances ensures that Frears is on to a winner with this one. Oh, and take tissues – you may just need them.