Steve Coogan Defends 'Philomena' Profanity; Judi Dench Fights the MPAA

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While Judi Dench's M deploys "Agent 002" to fight the MPAA in a Funny or Die video, Philomena writer and co-star Steve Coogan explains to the Atlantic Wire why the curse words that have earned Philomena an R are "absolutely essential." 

Dench resurrected her famous Bond-movie character last week, to aid Harvey Weinstein's ongoing fight to get Philomena a PG-13 rating, despite the two uses of the f-word that have garnered it an R. In the full video, M asks 002 (Coogan) to go and "have a word" with the MPAA. He seems to slightly misunderstand and asks if he should kill Adam Sandler. "Have you seen Jack and Jill?" Tough to argue with that. 

In all seriousness, the f-words are important to the film, Coogan told us when we had the chance to speak to him today. The film tells the story of Philomena Lee (Dench), a woman whose child was put up for adoption in the 1950s by the Catholic Church. Coogan, who co-wrote the film, plays Martin Sixsmith, the journalist who worked to help her find her child. At the end of the film, Martin, frustrated with one of the sisters at the convent where Philomena had been held, curses at her. "Martin’s anger at the end, where he swears at this nun, has to be shocking because it has to contrast with the grace and serenity that Dame Judi as Philomena exhibits," Coogan explained. "That anger has to shock just to elevate her grace. Similarly, early on, when Martin swears about Catholics. It needs to be provocative, certainly to her, but we also see that she’s not shocked by the profanity, because she spent many years as a nurse, which is important for the audience to know." 

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As important as the words are, to an audience member who sees the film with no knowledge of the rating, the R would also seem to make little sense. "I think most reasonable people would think it's completely inappropriate," Coogan explained. "Because when I’ve spoken to audiences after screenings, and I tell them the rating, they all have this intake of breath, of like, what are you talking about? This is clearly not an R-rated film, this is clearly PG-13." 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.