Spirits were high at the Nov. 12 Skylark afterparty for the Weinstein Company’s “Philomena” despite the film’s recent MPAA ratings controversy. While title-actress Judi Dench was not in attendance, Steve Coogan, who both co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope and stars as BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith, said he loved filming with Dench.
Coogan said he decided to adapt the script from Sixsmith’s book “The Lost Son of Philomena Lee” because he felt the story was incredibly relatable. “There were really universal themes in this story that I thought people could really identify with,” Coogan told Variety. “I wanted to start a discussion about the idea of intellect that Martin [Sixsmith] embodies versus the folk wisdom of Philomena.”
“Law and Order: SVU” star Mariska Hargitay, whose husband Peter Hermann also stars in the film, echoed Coogan’s words. “There was not a mother in that theater who couldn’t relate to the horror and pain of having a child ripped away,” Hargitay exclaimed. “And Judi Dench is just a sublime goddess.”
Hermann said one of his favorite parts of working on the film was simply watching Dench work. “When [director] Stephen Frears would hand her a note, just watching her chew it over in her head, watching the gears turn,” was extraordinary, he said.
“I came home every night scared he was going to leave me for Judi Dench!” Hargitay joked.
The actual Philomena Lee, who attended both the premiere and the party, said she was incredibly pleased with the outcome of Hollywood’s interpretation of her story, and that the journey of seeing it translate from book to screen was “amazing.” Both Lee and daughter Jane said the movie was “quite accurate,” down to certain lines and gestures.
“I used to live a quiet life,” Lee said. “I kept this a secret for 50 years.” When she was first approached about making her story into a movie, Lee said at first she was not interested. “I said no thank you,” Lee said,”but then I thought maybe it would help other people. There are a lot of women in Ireland going through the same pain.”
Sixsmith himself was also in attendance, and said the whole experience of watching his book come to life had been extraordinary. “I wrote the book in 2009 and now four years later it’s on screen,” Sixsmith exclaimed, calling the whole experience overwhelmingly positive.
Other attendees at the Cinema Society party included Harvey Weinstein, producer Gabrielle Tana, “Philomena” star Sophie Kennedy Clark, Emily Mortimer, David Byrne and Carla Gugino.