Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in Philomena (Pathe UK)

Out this week is Philomena, a film based the incredible true story of retired Irish nurse Philomena Lee who, with the assistance of English journalist Martin Sixsmith, searched for her estranged son who was taken from her by nuns when she was a teenager at a Catholic covenant in the 1950s. A sentimental crowd-pleaser if ever there was one, the movie is bolstered by the fantastic chemistry between Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in the lead roles.

Coogan also produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay, a man who's already had his hands full this year starring in The Look of Love and the Alan Partridge movie. But Martin Sixsmith is a much more serious role than those comic counterparts, and Coogan plays the cynical and snarky journalist, who unceremoniously lost his job as Labour director of communications with relish.

Alongside him is the superb Dench who brings immense warmth to the screen as the little old working-class lady with a heart of gold. When Sixsmith agrees to help Philomena in the search for her son as part of a human interest story, they go on a gripping and emotional journey that takes them from England, to Ireland and finally America.

They make a dynamic odd couple, the arrogant and intelligent Sixsmith to Philomena's humble and naive persona. The films ends up being as much an exploration of their differences and similarities as it is the search for the son. Fleshed out in flashbacks and real super-8 footage, the movie could easily descend in to the usual trite and sugary Oscar bait, but it's the charming chemistry between Dench and Coogan that keeps everything interesting and ensures you're still invested in how the story will develop.

The subject itself, of how horrifically teenage girls suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church at their now notorious asylums, has already been covered in more depth by the likes of Peter Mullan's excellent movie The Magdalene Sisters. But this is the film that will bring the topic to a more mainstream audience as a tale on faith, friendship and forgiveness.

Philomena is released in cinemas nationwide from 1 November.