Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Real ‘Philomena’ Takes on NY Post Critic in Full Page NYTimes Ad: “I Forgive You” For Saying Movie is Anti-Catholic


Thank God for Harvey Weinstein. He not only knows how to spot a PR opportunity but can make it into an issue. And that’s important in a movie biz that lacks marketing pizzazz or genius. The New York Post’s usually sensible movie critic Kyle Smith wrote a crazy review of Stephen Frears’s “Philomena.” He said the movie was anti-Catholic. Harvey must  have thought, Thank you Kyle. Now Harvey’s taken out a full page ad in the New York Times with a letter from the real Philomena Lee addressed to Smith.  It’s all great, and every entertainment writer is thankful to all these people. Meantime, everyone loves “Philomena.” Kyle Smith must have had a bad lunch that day. Dame Judi’s getting an Oscar nomination. And the film may be a Best Picture nominee.

Here’s Philomena’s letter:


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 Ireland, 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.



Philomena Lee

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

Read more

In Other News