JANE Lee (Anna Maxwell Martin) discovers her mother Philomena (Judi Dench) fell pregnant as a teenager in 1952 Ireland and was forced to give up the baby to the sisters at Roscrea Abbey.
Jane pitches the story to former Labour adviser turned BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan).
After a reality check from his wife Kate (Simone Lahbib), Martin agrees to help Philomena track down her boy.
"I'd like to know if he thought of me,"
Philomena tells Martin. "I've thought of him every day."
Using his connections, Martin takes Philomena to Washington DC to sift through official documents, hoping to reunite the old woman with the son she never wanted to give up.
Throughout, Philomena clings to her faith, lighting a candle for her child.
However, Martin cannot conceal his contempt for religion, telling Philomena: "It's the Catholic Church that should be going to confession, not you!”
Directed with a light touch by Stephen Frears, Philomena celebrates the power of hope to heal old wounds.
Dench is magnificent and Coogan jettisons most of his Alan Partridge tics in support, gradually warming to Philomena and her upbeat outlook on life.
"Just because you're in first class doesn't mean you're a first class person," she tells him during a long haul flight in economy class.
Tears flow freely as the eponymous heroine discovers the fate of her boy, seizing upon every nugget of information as if she had just won the lottery.
The tender and unexpectedly touching relationship that forms between the two central characters from different generations and backgrounds provides Frears' uplifting film with its irresistible emotional thrust.