This month’s film, despite being generally well received and winning a BAFTA film award for Best Adapted Screenplay, has caused controversy. In December last year the Daily Mail ran an article on a New York critic who had described the film as ‘90 minutes of organised hate’.
The Mail’s article featured a reply to this by Philomena Lee (below with Judi Dench), the woman whose story this is. Here is the text of the article in full…
The woman whose search for the son she was forced to give up for adoption inspired the film Philomena has slammed a U.S. critic who branded it ‘anti-Catholic and anti-Republican’.
Philomena, which stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, tells the story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who was forced by nuns to give up her three-year-old son Anthony having fallen pregnant as a teenager.
After keeping silent about her loss for 50 years she tells her story to journalist Martin Sixsmith, played by Coogan, and the pair travel to America in an attempt to trace Anthony.
In a scathing review in the New York Post, Kyle Smith described the film as ‘90 minutes of organised hate’, the sole purpose of which was to ‘simultaneously attack Catholics and Republicans’. He brands the key characters as a ‘ninny and a jerk’ and goes on to describe the film as ‘a sugary slice of arsenic cake’.
But the review prompted Ms Lee to write to Smith in support of the film arguing that he had had missed the point entirely and pointing out that, despite her experience, she is a proud Catholic. Ms Lee’s letter, which was placed as full-page advert in the New York Times by the film’s producer Harvey Weinstein, states the movie is supposed to be a ‘testament to good things, not an attack’.
She writes: “Your review of the movie paints its story as being a condemnation of Catholicism and conservative views. It states that the relationship depicted between Mr Martin Sixsmith and myself comes across as contrived and trite, and funny for all the wrong reasons. Forgive me for saying so, Kyle, but you are incorrect”.
“What Stephen Frears did with Martin’s book is something extraordinary and quite real. Stephen’s take on the story of Martin and me searching for my long lost son, whom I hadn’t spoken of to a single soul in fifty years, has overwhelmingly spoken to those who have seen it in a very positive light. “For that I am intensely grateful, not just because people the world over have watched the movie with open hearts and embraced me for coming forward with the truth after all this time. ‘The story it tells has resonated with people not because it’s some mockery of ideas or institutions that they’re in disagreement with”.
“This is not a rally cry against the church or politics. In fact, despite some of the troubles that befell me as a young girl, I have always maintained a very strong hold on my faith.”
The film is based on Martin Sixsmith’s book Philomena, which charts his and Ms Lee’s four year hunt to trace Anthony. He described the film, written by Coogan and director Stephen Frears as ‘beautifully wrought’ and ‘steering a path between affecting pathos and laugh-out-loud humour’.
Speaking exclusively to the Mail earlier this year, Ms Lee explained how she was sent off to work in a Catholic laundry just eight weeks after giving birth. She described the heartbreaking moment that she found out her son was being given up for adoption from one of the few nuns she considered a friend. She said: “I didn’t even have a chance to give him a last cuddle. I saw his little face looking out of the back window of the black car that was taking him away. That’s never left me, that image, in all my years.
“I was there when they filmed that scene for the movie and it was exactly how I remembered it. The director Stephen Frears said: “What are you doing here today, are you mad?” I did shed a tear. Awful. Awful.
“After Anthony was taken, oh, I cried and caused a right carry on.The nuns told me to shut up and to stop being stupid and that I was lucky I had my baby adopted.”
The film has also prompted an angry response from the order of nuns, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in County Tipperary, who claim they were made to look like ‘villains’.
Sister Julie Rose, the order’s assistant congregational leader, said the film ‘does not tell the whole truth, and in many ways is very misleading’. Daily Mail, 6th December 2013
So there we are, religion and controversy — nothing new there then, but I expect we’ll make up our own minds. Ed