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Is 'Philomena' Anti-Catholic? The Real Judi Dench Says "No."

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by Sam Adams
November 27, 2013 5:12 PM
4 Comments
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Philomena

Most reviwers have characterized Stephen Frears' Philomena as middle of the road awards-season fare, but the New York Post's Kyle Smith saw in the story of single mother forced to give her child up for adoption in 1950s Ireland a scurrilous (or, to quote the headline, "hateful and boring") attack on Republicans and Catholics. "There's no other purpose to the movie," he writes, "so if 90 minutes of organized hate brings you joy, go and buy your ticket now."

The film doesn’t mention that in 1952 Ireland, both mother and child’s life would have been utterly ruined by an out-of-wedlock birth and that the nuns are actually giving both a chance at a fresh start that both indeed, in real life, enjoyed. No, this is a diabolical-Catholics film, straight up.

If you're aware that Philomena is distributed by the Weinstein Company, you could have predicted what would happen next. As with their documentary Salinger, Weinstein has moved quickly to quash anything that might take the wind out of their awards campaign's sails, this time by handing an open letter from the real Philomena Lee (played in the film by Judi Dench) to Deadline Hollywood.


Beginning "Dear Kyle" -- who knew they were on a first-name basis? -- 

Kyle, Stephen’s movie about my story is meant to be a testament to good things, not an attack. It is a testament to the undying bond that’s exists between mothers and their children, something that I've found time and distance have no bearing on. It is a testament to the willingness to never give up on keeping that bond alive, even if all odds are pointing you against it. It is also a testament to the fact that no matter how old we grow, there is always a chance we will meet someone, however different from us, that might impact our views on humanity and help guide us on a new, if perhaps unforeseen, path.

Of course, although it's Lee's life, it's not her movie, and her condescending offer to "forgive you for not taking the time to understand my story" is a low blow. But Smith's argument, which is mostly premised on the idea that Lee should have been grateful to the Catholic Church for taking her unwanted child off her hands, wasn't a strong one to begin with. 

4 Comments

  • Brian | November 29, 2013 7:41 AMReply

    Sean Ross Abbey

    I am a catholic and have respected Bill Donahue's ardent defense of Catholicism in the past, however, I must take issue with his recent commentary and Kyle Smith's review of the film "Philamena".
    I was born in Sean Ross abbey in 1958 and adopted by wonderful parents from NYC. Like many adoptees I sometimes wondered who gave me life and what her circumstances were. In 1989 I visited Sean Ross abbey and met with Sr. Hildagarde. She could not have been nicer, serving my wife and I rhubarb pie and tea and informing me that my birth mom was adept in needlpoint and music and had a bit of a rebellious streak. She offered to do a search and would get back to me with what she discovered (donations appreciated).
    I later came to believe that this was a standard line given by the good Sr. to many of the adoptees searching for their moms and that she had no intention of ever helping me. All the information I received from Sr. Hildagarde and subsequently Sr. Sarto were total dead ends or worse.
    I finally discovered, 15 years after asking Sr. Hildagarde for her help, that my birth mom passed in 1991.
    In 2004 I was reunited with my 2 brothers and a sister through a third party that was totally unaffiliated with Sean Ross abbey and the Catholic Church. This third party, who wishes to remain anonymous, asked for nothing in return. She is a true angel. My reunion with my siblings and my mom's sister and brothers has been remarkably positive for all.
    I believe that the true role model here is Philamena herself and not those in control of these catholic institutions. Maybe reviewers like Kyle Smith and catholic leaders like Bill Donahue need to open their world view and stop defending the indefensible.

  • JD | November 29, 2013 1:40 AMReply

    What the Church did then in Ireland and, yes, here in the US in the fifties continuing through the seventies was wrong. It was evil. Period. This movie isn't anti-Catholic. The story is very real and there are many Philomenas out there today suffering because of the evil deeds of the Church.

    Kyle a Smith is probably one of those nasty sorts who thinks the sex abuse scandal was the fault of all those flirty kids seducing priests. What a creep.

  • David M. Lawrence | November 28, 2013 8:10 PMReply

    How is her statement that, "her condescending offer to 'forgive you for not taking the time to understand my story'" a "low blow"? I get tired of "critics" such as Kyle Smith who bloviate about things they little understand. It seems pretty clear that he did not take any time to understand THE story -- what should be an unforgivable crime for anyone claiming the mantle of "critic."

    So, please justify your use of the term "low blow."

    I have a lot of ethical problems with what the church was doing here. Whatever the social conditions of Ireland in the 1950s, their practice of adopting children out under undeniably coercive conditions is a problem; their practice of selling these children is likewise questionable; and the convent's refusal to provide mother and son with the information they needed to meet each other (again) until after the son died -- and he told the nuns he was dying the last time he contacted them about his birth mother -- is simply unforgivable. That was long after the 1950s Smith harkened to in his attack on the film had passed.

    If there was a low blow, he was the only one throwing it.

  • Skippy | November 28, 2013 3:21 PMReply

    Shouldn't this have been titled: "...The Real Philomena Says 'No.'"

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