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Steve Coogan: 'Philomena' not attack on Catholic Church

7:31 AM, Dec 21, 2013   |    comments
(Photo: Gabriel Olsen Getty Images)
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USA TODAY - It's quite the morning for Steve Coogan, whose drama Philomena earned a best-picture nomination, and he also got a nomination for co-writing the screenplay. He co-stars in the film with nominee Judi Dench, who is searching for the son she was forced by the Catholic Church to give up for adoption.

"I'm very well," says the understated Coogan. "I'm being very British about it. I have a coffee in front of me. I'm delighted. I'm very, very happy. It's already felt like a vindication. It's like a big pat on the back. I remember I sat in a flat looking at an article in the paper that made me cry and thinking that I wanted to tell the story. It was one of the few times in my life no one advised me to do it. I just wanted to do it. I felt inclined to do it and wanted to see what happens. It could only not work out. I went with my intuition. I wasn't second-guessing it, really. There was no marketing research, no focus groups. I just did something I felt was sincere."

The film has mostly impressed critics, with one very notable exception. The New York Post's Kyle Smith ran a review with the following headline: "Philomena another hateful and boring attack on Catholics." And now this movie has become part of a hot-button issue: is it bashing Catholicism? Or is it just the dramatization of one mother's story?

"(Kyle Smith) does think (it's an attack). That's clearly what he thinks. I think he's wrong. It does misinterpret the film. There is some criticism of the way some people in the church behaved. I'm writing about something that's familiar to me. I'm just writing a story I know about," says Coogan.

"In actual fact, I didn't want to do a blanket polemic attack on religion. It was important to me that I tempered any anger by showing that Philomena is the sort of person who had incredible grace and fortitude and is the best ambassador for her faith. The film shows that life isn't black and white and we can all learn from each other. It's supposed to be a film of reconciliation."

Never one to run from controversy, Harvey Weinstein, whose studio is distributing the film, ran the following ad: "The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA TODAY all praise Philomena with a 92% Certified Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes," said the ad. "But the New York Post's Kyle Smith has a different opinion. 'Another hateful attack on Catholics.'"

"I think Harvey may have tried to make capital from it, which is the way he gets attention for films," says Coogan.

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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