Philomena-1EXCLUSIVE: It sure isn’t easy being a Catholic these days, especially on a movie screen. Philomena Lee, subject of the just-released Oscar season film Philomena, has taken the unusual step of directly answering a New York Post critic who slammed the Stephen Frears-directed adaptation of her story as an attack on the Catholic faith, as well as Republicans.

Lee is played in the film by Judi Dench, and her story is a crusher: She was sent to a Catholic abbey in Ireland as a teen after she got pregnant and, as was the custom then, was compelled to sign away her rights to the child. She still cared for him for the first three years of his life while she worked as an indentured laundry lady, and then saw her son given up for adoption. The movie is about how, after keeping this a shameful secret for 50 years, she teamed with a disgraced journalist named Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to find that son. Since it’s an exceptionally personal story, she has chosen to speak out about a particularly nasty review by Kyle Smith of The New York Post that has become a Twitter hot-button topic. Of the title character’s teenaged dilemma, Smith writes that “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.” He ends his review by writing: “A film that is half as harsh on Judaism or Islam, of course, wouldn’t be made in the first place but would be universally reviled if it were. Philomena is a sucker punch, or maybe a sugary slice of arsenic cake.”

I’ve always found Smith to be a pretty thoughtful reviewer, but given this is someone’s life experience, this seems harshly judgmental to me. I’m Catholic, and there are many things over the long history of this institutionalized faith that leave you shaking your head. It’s no different than any other religion, and unlike some of the others, I do applaud the fact that controversial issues can and do get dissected in forums like film. And when you are in church, and feel the swell of faith in your heart that triggers conscience, good will, optimism, redemption and other fine things, well, there is nothing quite like it.

In her response, Lee addresses Smith directly: “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.

Trish
10 months
I saw this film on Sunday and loved it. I found out just this past summer that...
Lindsy
10 months
Just saw the movie. The story of the mother son bond and telling the truth is indeed...
Dan Farr
10 months
If this event had been discovered in today's world it would have a movie about abduction and...

“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, who 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.

“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.”

Here is her complete response to the reviewer:

Dear Kyle,

Having just had a film – and not long before that, a book – made about my life has been a surreal experience, needless to say. I worked for nearly thirty years as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, a job that some days was emotionally grueling but in which I relished every moment of service. The rest of my time has been spent focusing on my family. All told, I’m a humble woman who has spent a quiet life in England, probably as far as one can get from the chaotic lights and busy chatter of the Hollywood and media world.

It wouldn’t normally be in my nature to comment on a movie review like yours, not just because this is all something new and foreign to me. I consider myself a woman of devout views but also one of considerable open mindedness. However, I must tell you that your take on PHILOMENA has moved me to respond.

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, who 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.

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.

Once again, let me state that all in all, Stephen, Martin and I have been incredibly fortunate in receiving such a warm response to the movie. Not everyone has to love it, or take much away from it, but I speak on behalf of all of us in saying that what we don’t want is its message to be misinterpreted. You are entitled to an opinion of course, as we all are. Just as I forgave the church for what happened with my son, I forgive you for not taking the time to understand my story. I do hope though that the families heading to the movie theatre to see the film decide for themselves – and disagree with you.

Sincerely,

Philomena Lee