In newspaper parlance a human interest story is one in which suffering is treated like gold dust, as pain has the edge over nice in the ratings war.
No wonder journalists are beyond hope.
Philomena is based on a human interest story, a real one. Young girl in Ireland has a baby out of wedlock. Mother and child are banished to a convent where the nuns sell the child to a rich American couple.
The girl grows up, marries, has a family, but never forgets her first born, the little boy who was taken from her.
Martin Sixsmith was an ex-BBC reporter who hears of Philomena’s plight and calculates the human interest value at once, as well as a chance to put the boot into the Catholic church.
At the start he is not certain whether anything will come of it.
What if promising leads are chopped off at source and there’s nowhere to go but back?
More than 50 years have passed since the boy was collected in a big shiny car and driven away into the mist.
The film is a mystery. What’s his name, this boy who is now a man? Where was he taken? The nuns at the convent are unhelpful, claiming their records were destroyed in a fire, which may or may not be true.
And so they go to America, Martin and Philomena. Little clues, little victories, closer, further, surprises followed by disappointments, followed by deadlines. A road trip. A heart break. One day at a time.
Is this enough? Yes, it is enough. Although the story could have been swapped for hundreds of others with even darker, more exciting outcomes, what gives Stephen Frears’ film an advantage is the presence of the incomparable Dame Judi as Philomena and a reconstituted Alan Partridge in the role of Sixsmith.
Actually, Steve Coogan did more than turn up, remember his lines and try not to act the fool.
He co-produced and co-wrote the movie.
His script is sharp and witty and his performance thoroughly convincing.
He has the ability to be serious and not serious at the same time, which comes across as cynicism on toast, with added humour and no mayo.