• Review Date: November 22, 2013
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 98 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Smart, wrenching, deeply moving drama fine for older teens.
  • Review Date: November 22, 2013
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 98 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Guilt will devour you if you let it. Instead, consider forgiving yourself, which can lead you to forgive others who have wronged you. Also, persistence pays off. And there is always an option for a second (or third) act in life.

Positive role models

Philomena is an interesting lead, harboring a secret she finds shameful but still giving, honest, inquisitive, adventurous, and, important considering the situation, brave. Martin may be more cagey and cynical, but in the end, he acts out of a generosity in spirit.


Some scenes of a teenager being held down brusquely while giving birth, spoken to by nuns who are ostensibly helping her with little compassion.


References to a girl meeting a boy at a fair and having sex, but we see nothing more than kissing in flashbacks. A brief discussion about female genitals, bisexuality, and homosexuality.


Some choice words, including "s--t" and "f--k," though they're used rarely.


A Sony Vaio is prominently displayed in one scene, a Guinness in another. Also, a discussion about BMW cars (the logo is also visible) as well as a Mazda.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Fairly frequent drinking, usually beer but also hard liquor, in pubs and parties.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Philomena is a moving, gracefully filmed drama that's somewhat teen-friendly, though younger teens may find the subjects -- teen pregnancy resulting in a traumatic stay at a nunnery, deep religious guilt, death from AIDS, abandonment, and guilt -- quite heavy. Expect some infrequent swearing, including one "f--k."

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

British public servant Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), "resigned" by the government after a scandal where he unfortunately becomes in the word of a former colleague, "collateral damage," has no idea what to do next. He flirts with the idea of writing a book on Russian history, but a chance meeting with a woman (Michelle Fairley) at a dinner party leads him back to journalism, his former pursuit. Her mother is an Irish woman named PHILOMENA (Judi Dench). She has finally, after decades, shared a secret she'd been harboring for years. As a pregnant teen, she was abandoned by her father to live in a convent, where she worked for nothing in the laundry to "pay off" the nuns for caring for her (barely), and where she bore a son who, a few years later, was taken away from her without her permission and placed in an adoption with an American family. Surprising himself, Martin joins Philomena in her search for her son.

Is it any good?


Philomena is terrific. A winding, emotionally grueling and eloquently told tale of one woman's immense heartbreak, it approaches its delicate subject matter with the boldness of a soldier but the grace of a dancer, balancing the harshness with so much hope for humanity. Judi Dench is to thank for such a nuanced, forthright performance as the titular lead. She stays away from the maudlin by gifting her nervous Philomena with authentic (and developing) courage, a journey we totally buy because Dench's depiction doesn't doesn't condescend nor rely on shorthand. Steve Coogan keeps his signature sarcasm, which still exists here, in check, allowing his Martin to be jaded but not cruel. And when he comes dangerously close to it, he pulls himself back, as decent men do. (He also appears, as Martin, to be continually surprised by Philomena, a subtle but complex discovery to emote, but he does it well.) Together, they share a believable rapport that grows as the film unfolds.

Director Stephen Frears uses flashbacks to tell Philomena's story, and it's deliberate and disciplined enough so as not to annoy. (Flashbacks can be dicey, as many movies prove.) The wrap-up feels ever so slightly rushed, but nothing that distracts. Taking on a subject that may make its villains one-dimensional is tricky, and at times, the villainous nuns here careen dangerously close to caricature, but Frears pulls it off. And beautifully.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why Philomena kept her story for so long and why she decided to share it decades later. Why does she respond to the nuns the way she chooses to in the end? What is the ultimate message of the movie?

  • Does the film shed light on any real-life injustices you didn't know about before? What do you think of what happened to Philomena?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 22, 2013
DVD release date:April 15, 2014
Cast:Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Director:Stephen Frears
Topics:Friendship, History
Run time:98 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references

This review of Philomena was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent of a 13, 15, and 18 year old Written bymarsmoons December 28, 2013

Wonderful film.

I am not sure why I could not give this movie 5 stars - would have. Sweetly funny, thought provoking. An opening to discuss personal and religious values.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 17 years old Written byBestPicture1996 December 15, 2013

Poignant film has humor and heartfelt drama

"Philomena" essentially is a two-person movie, with the quid-pro-quo between Coogan and Dench being dynamically written, even if the story (yes I know it's real) can be a bit sentimental, and some moments meant to be huge are underplayed. But Dench's positive yet emotionally charged Philomena Lee takes this movie to another level, depicting a woman capable of great love and sometimes blind faith in the world, having electric dialogue about faith, happiness and more with Coogan's journalist cynic. Expect to hear Dench's name once again come Oscar time.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Adult Written byCatholicFirefighter April 23, 2014

Contains numerous lies & errors ...

Go to the "Catholic League" website and search "Philomena" to read documented accounts of the numerous lies and deceptions found in this movie. If you're looking for a film relaying a truthful account, this is NOT the one to see.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Essential School Tools