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.
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.