PopeWatch: Philomena


Pope Francis has met Philomena Lee:

Philomena Lee, the real-life woman behind the hit movie “Philomena,” got an ending to her story today that even Hollywood could not write, a meeting with Pope Francis.

Lee, 80, traveled to Rome at the invitation of the Vatican to meet the Pope, the head of the same Catholic Church that, six decades ago, forced her to give up her baby son for adoption by an American family because she was an unwed mother.

“Thank you. I’m very happy to meet you,” Lee said, touching the hand of the leader of the faithful.

Back in 1952, Lee was 18 years old, unmarried and pregnant. She gave birth to a son in an Irish home for unwed mothers and, told what she had done was shameful, was forced to give up her son, whom she named Anthony, three years after his birth.

For 50 years afterward, she would periodically return to the home to try to get word of her son, but she never told anyone else about what happened because she felt ashamed.

Later on in life, Lee enlisted the help of BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith to track Anthony down. Their search led them to the United States, where she learned that her son had died nine years earlier of AIDS.

The Vatican has indicated that Pope Francis will not view the film Philomena, which is a good thing because it is a lying, manipulative piece of anti-Catholic propaganda.  Too harsh?  Let Kyle Smith, the atheist ex-Catholic film reviewer for the New York Post, do the honors:

With “Philomena,” British producer-writer-star Steve Coogan and director Stephen Frears hit double blackjack, finding a true-life tale that would enable them to simultaneously attack Catholics and Republicans.

There’s no other purpose to the movie, so if 90 minutes of organized hate brings you joy, go and buy your ticket now.

For the rest of us, the film is a witless bore about a ninny and a jerk having one of those dire, heavily staged, only-in-movies odd-couple road trips. Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, a disgraced ex-government flack, journalist and pompous intellectual who, after getting fired, learns at a party about a human-interest story that might jump-start his career. It’s the woeful tale of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), a woman of about 70 who, 50 years ago in Catholic Ireland, gave up for adoption a son born out of wedlock.

Frears (the director of “The Queen”) and Coogan revel in the details. When Lee, then 18, started to gain weight after a sweet evening with a boy at a carnival, she didn’t even know the term “pregnant.” She was sent off to an abbey to give birth in secrecy and shame, with the son, at age 3, given up for adoption. The film can’t quite decide whether the young mother was forced to give up her son Anthony; it makes as look as though she was, but also includes a scene in which contemporary Philomena adamantly denies coercion.

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.

Go here to the New York Post to read the rest.  After the US distributor of the film Harvey Weinstein attacked his review, Kyle Smith returned to the subject in an addendum to his review:

My inbox is full of e-mail from fans of the film saying “a) how dare you ding it for being anti-Catholic when b) the Catholic Church is so transparently evil?”

We all know how cruel it was for the mid-century Catholic Church to provide shelter for scorned women written off as dead by their families, help them give birth to their children and place the adoptees in loving homes. Today we’d be much more compassionate: We’d simply abort all those kids. Problem solved!

Today’s Philomenas don’t have to wonder what happened to their babies. They’re out back, in the Dumpster. But better that than growing up to be a Republican.

This film is yet another episode in Hollywood’s long history of grubbing for awards based on claims of historical and sociopolitical importance, then sheepishly claiming dramatic license when things don’t hold up to scrutiny. If key underlying facts are wrong, how well does the conclusion hold up?

The film gives the false impression that Philomena’s son was (as Sixsmith put it in an article he wrote for, yes, The Daily Mail, “Stolen from his mother — and sold to the highest bidder”). It also claims the nuns burned all records to cover up what they’d done.

Dench even says, in an introduction to the book the film is based on, that you, Philomena, were “forced” to give up your child. Dench has already forgotten her line in the film, “No one coerced me. I signed of my own free will.” The audience will forget she said that too, since the rest of “Philomena” creates the strong impression that you, Philomena, were coerced into giving your son up for adoption.

As for the “sold to the highest bidder” claim, Sister Julie Rose, assistant congregation leader for the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Roscrea, Ireland, has replied (in the magazine The Tablet) that no money was accepted for adoptions and the order didn’t destroy any records.

If, like ex-BBC man Sixsmith and the filmmakers, you’re going to accuse people of wrongdoing, I’m afraid the burden of proof is on you, and Sixsmith’s book on the matter, which reads like a novel, is hardly convincing. It contains long stretches of seemingly invented dialogue supposedly spoken more than 50 years ago by people now dead and offers no footnotes or source notes.

It starts with a weaselly disclaimer about situations being “reconstructed to the best of my ability,” along with a cheeky confession that “gaps have been filled, characters extrapolated and incidents surmised.” (Who knew the BBC’s journalism department had a “reconstruct to the best of your ability” subdivision?)

It’s also unlikely the movie’s villain, Sister Hildegard McNulty, met with Sixsmith after he started working on the story in 2004, since she died in 1995. It’s therefore even more unlikely that she denounced you, Philomena, as yielding to “carnal” desires at that nonexistent meeting.

Nor am I entirely convinced, Philomena, that the people who (unlike you) actually made the film meant it as something other than an attack. In an interview with The Telegraph, director Frears boasted that during the film’s debut at the Venice Film Festival, “the Coogan’s character’s explosive howl of ‘f – – – ing Catholics!’ ” won “a big round of applause.” This prompted an ebullient Frears to ask Coogan, “Can’t we repeat that line?” Coogan wouldn’t — he was afraid of catching hell from his parents, who raised him Catholic. Continue Reading