Real-life ‘Philomena’ (nicely) takes on film critic Kyle Smith

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in the drama "Philomena." Credit: TWC Publicity
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in the drama “Philomena.”
Credit: TWC Publicity

Film criticism, like filmmaking, does not attract many conservatives, and one of the few — The New York Post’s Kyle Smith — does not hide his views. One can rely on him to speak against any film that could even remotely denigrate his political stripe. The latest subject of his epithet-heavy ire is “Philomena,” the well-received crowd-pleaser starring Judi Dench as one Philomena Lee, a real-life Irish woman whose child was taken from her at a Catholic convent and whose identity was consciously kept from view. He was, to say the least, not moved by this real-life tragedy.

“There’s no other purpose to the movie,” he charges, “than to simultaneously attack Catholics and Republicans.” Perhaps worse, “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.” (The Metro also didn’t enjoy the film, though we’d only agree with the second part, minus the characterization of Lee as a “ninny.”)

The real Lee has retaliated, albeit in the most nice old Irish lady way possible. Her letter, published by Deadline Hollywood, starts by calling him “Kyle” — to pile on the guilt straight away — then proceeds to maintain that the film was not done out of hate. “The story it tells has resonated with people not because it’s some mockery of ideas or institutions that they’re in disagreement with,” Lee says. “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.”

She does admittedly go a touch far with her conclusion, though it’s understandable (and kind of satisfying, to be honest): “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.”

For the record, “Philomena” — co-starring and co-written by legendary comic performer Steve Coogan, who does a finem, unpleasant version of the cliche of the intellectual jerk who needs to get knocked down a peg or two — goes out of its way to distinguish between Catholics and the institution that preys (or at least once preyed) on certain “unsavory” members. Even after discovering the truth, Lee retains her faith, and [spoiler, though it's based on a real, easily available story] forgives those who made her life miserable. (Meanwhile, Coogan’s atheist comes off like a jerk who deserves receiving an f-bomb from Dame Judi.)

Moreover, Lee should just be happy she didn’t tear his limbs off and beat him with it over this paragraph in his review: “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.” Yes, Lee should have been happy that her son was taken away from her and his whereabouts systematically kept from her.


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