"12 Years a Slave," director Steve McQueen's harrowing real-life tale of slavery, was clearly the breakout smash of the Toronto International Film Festival. But that doesn't mean that it didn't have some competition, mostly in the form of the unassuming "Philomena," a based-on-a-true-story drama that might not have had the heavy historical weight of "12 Years a Slave" but seems to have packed a similar emotional punch.

"Philomena" is the tale of a journalist (played by Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the film) who takes on the story of Philomena (Judi Dench), a woman who, as a teenager, had her child taken away from her. She's desperate to reconnect with her child before she dies, and Coogan, playing a former journalist turned political wonk, sees it as a chance for him to get back to what he's best at.

The film is directed by "The Queen" and "Dirty Pretty Things" filmmaker Stephen Frears, and while Dench is often used to her queenly roles (like her Oscar-winning turn in "Shakespeare in Love"), that isn't the case here. This is a different role altogether -- contemporary, somewhat funny (we couldn't help but giggle at the "Big Momma's House" joke), and with a great comedic foil in Coogan, whose goofy "Alan Partridge" will screen at this year's New York Film Festival. It certainly seems, just based on the trailer that an Oscar nomination could very well be in her future.

"Philomena," which, again, won the People's Choice Award Runner-Up prize and the screenwriting prize at the Venice Film Festival, will open in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas day, before expanding nationwide on January 10.
Philomena Movie Poster
Based on 42 critics

In 1952, Irish teenager Philomena (Judi Dench) became pregnant out of wedlock and was sent to a convent.... Read More