Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb….
As it continues to be screened nationwide, Charles Gant highlights the importance of Judi Dench’s casting in Philomena – and the impact on its box-office – in the recent January 2014 edition of Sight & Sound:
“Steve Coogan may be a producer, co-writer and star of Philomena, but for backers Pathé there was never any question about the key selling-point. ‘Judi Dench is the asset that launches the film,’ says the company’s UK distributing boss Lee Bye.”
Read the full article by subscribing to or buying this month’s Sight & Sound here.
Gant clarifies how integral Judi Dench is to the “grey cinema audience”, and how her role in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (pulling £20m at the box-office) and Ladies in Lavender have established her as bankable as Jude Law and James McAvoy.
Philomena has had exceptional word-of-mouth and a film-savvy audience will be well aware of the awards push that it is already undergoing. I had heard the positive press when it was screened at the Venice and London Film Festivals, but as a writer who generally pays for cinema screenings, choosing to watch Philomena was a gamble. Judi Dench was not going to be the selling point for my ticket-stub.
Judi Dench is in plenty of films, and though I like her, like all actors, she is not a guarantee. Film directors may have that pull over me – but actors less so. There was a time whereby Al Pacino, Robert De Niro Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet would ‘sell’ a film to me. Then Pacino and De Niro made Righteous Kill, Fassbender was in Jonah Hex and Kate Winslet was in Movie 43. Suffice to say, enough bad reviews of those three films made me wait until a viewing was truly necessary. I am being facetious by noting such extraordinary weak films connected to these actors, and clearly Philomena isn’t weak whatsoever, my point is merely an actor alone doesn’t make a film. “Guaranteed” blockbuster-maker Will Smith found that out when the box-office receipts rolled in for After Earth (“Don’t worry M. Night, I have a way I can get your career back on track…”).
Gant simply points out that Judi Dench, in terms of marketing, was at the forefront of their publicity campaign. I would argue that, though this may have been the primary reason for Philomena’s success, I am sure that many viewers trekked to their local because of the cross-generational themes that resonated so well. Friends of mine, in their late twenties, recommended the film and told me nothing more than to “just watch it”. But, in addition to this, both my parents raved about the film. Rarely does a recommendation come from such diverse sources. The awards and Oscar-campaign already beginning highlighted the longevity of the film’s quality – this wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon. What sounded on the surface as a “BBC drama” (it is a BBC drama… not in the quoted, sub-average, daytime-viewer way) and “based on a true story” (again, it is a true-story but not in the bland, granny-and-granddad likes a true-story way), is actually incredibly well-written and subtly-directed. I have never been so moved by a film in years and have shouted this from the rooftops. And I know friends have followed my advice and feel the same. Interestingly, rather than thinking any more of Judi Dench (I’ve always liked her), as someone who was not on the Alan Partridge train, I am now desperately seeking out Steve Coogan’s back-catalogue. Saxondale, 24 Hour Party People and The Trip are all on my to-watch list. The Parole Officer isn’t.