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The Forum > Article Comments > Philomena is a distortion of the truth > Comments

Philomena is a distortion of the truth : Comments

By Brendan O'Reilly, published 10/1/2014

The movie has many highly emotional scenes but many events concerning Philomena and Sixsmith's search for her son either never happened at all or happened quite differently to their portrayal in the book.

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The last British-made film I ever saw about Ireland and Irish themes was 'Some Mother's Son'. It was such a distorted, malevolent beat-up of everything Irish, that I vowed never to view another British-made film about Ireland and Irish themes.

This essay simply confirms my decision.
Posted by Killarney, Monday, 13 January 2014 1:18:01 AM
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Killarney, I think both you and the author are reading too much into what is essentially mainly a fictional story.

Since when has any movie been totally a carbon copy story from the book version?
And Killarney, I doubt all British-made films about Ireland are as bad as you make out.

My husband is Irish, and he loves any film or series made by the British, certainly more so than by the Americans.

I doubt many of the adoption experiences ANY of the girls in Ireland (or anywhere else) had during any time in the past were positive experiences, do you?

Despite running 'homes' where pregnant single women could wait out their pregnancies and births, I doubt the majority of nuns did it out of the goodness of their hearts.

The church in those days are well known to have treated such girls as sinners and 'fallen women' at best.
No mention of the men who impregnated them of course...
Posted by Suseonline, Tuesday, 14 January 2014 12:06:14 AM
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Suse

‘… you and the author are reading too much into what is essentially mainly a fictional story’

It’s a story based on fact, not fiction. As O’Reilly argued, the filmmakers made conscious decisions to depart from the facts. Those decisions reflect cultural biases and marketing requirements, in which the British tendency to sanitise its murky historical relationship with Ireland win out. After all, there are 60 million potential UK bums on seats, but only 5 million in Ireland.

'Killarney, I doubt all British-made films about Ireland are as bad as you make out.'

I dunno. They mostly portray the Irish as hate-filled, Catholicism-whipped, muddled children. The so-called Troubles are portrayed as a power struggle between fringe fanatics, not as a legitimate political war. Historical social-realism films about Ireland portray the Irish as inherently dysfunctional people (because of all that repressive Catholicism no doubt) rather than as people barely surviving in a post-occupation society.

‘The church in those days are well known to have treated such girls as sinners and 'fallen women' at best.’

This was no different from non-Catholic society. However, as Brendan argues, the film portrays this as a particularly Catholic thing, when it wasn’t.

‘My husband is Irish, and he loves any film or series made by the British’

Yes, they do produce excellent stuff, but with a very British worldview. British distributors, especially the BBC, hold a virtual monopoly. When’s the last time you saw an Irish, Scottish or Welsh production on the ABC?
Posted by Killarney, Tuesday, 14 January 2014 5:29:51 AM
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Having just seen Philomena, there is right at the beginning a sub-title which appears on screen - 'Inspired by true events'. This is the caveat that the film is not an exact depiction of the facts as in the book. I grant this caveat will most likely be lost in discussions around this film.

My sympathy, however lies more with the young girls who endured the treatment at the hand of the Catholic Church, a powerful organisation that, up until recent times, were not held accountable for their actions. I won't detail them here as they are well known.

There is no doubt there are good Catholic nuns and priests, and that there were other organisations that behaved badly, but I think that is hardly the point.

Films like Philomena, while some aspects of the storyline might be fictional, demonstrate the attitudes within the Church as told to me by my Catholic raised mother who is of Anglo/Irish descent. The culture was one of punishment and sin with little regard to love, compassion and acceptance of differences. My uncles and aunts retell similar stories of they youth.
Posted by pelican, Tuesday, 14 January 2014 8:15:05 AM
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Quite right Pellican.
My grandmother was Irish, my mother was brought up in a Catholic boarding school, and I was schooled by nuns all my school life, so I know what you mean.

'Philomena' is a movie based on real life.
It isn't a documentary.
I dare say a documentary would have painted a far worse picture of Catholic Ireland's treatment of pregnant single girls than ever was shown on this movie.

You only need to have a few discussions with relinquishing mothers from Ireland in those days (as I have) to get the real horror stories.

Killarney, I understand how you feel about the British occupation of Ireland, but the British will naturally want to tell it from their point of view.
I have seen some good movies made in Ireland, telling of Irish history, but I don't think they have a large film industry there?

However, it's the Catholic Church and their history of treatment of single mothers that is the issue here. And there's no denying they were the experts of the day in dealing with these 'sinful women', in Ireland and elsewhere.
Posted by Suseonline, Tuesday, 14 January 2014 9:58:13 AM
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suse, pelican

The problem with films that claim to be ‘based on true events’ is that in the minds of the viewing public, they are subliminally perceived as fact.

By way of comparison, a similar 'nuns punishing fallen women' film was made in 2002 about the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, which portrayed them as virtual gulags, full of sadistic nuns bent on torturing the women in their charge, psychologically, sexually, emotionally and physically. The film was a British/Northern Ireland production and made by a Catholic-hating Scot. Not a single Magdalene sister was consulted in the writing of the script or the making of the film.

Also, despite the fact that there were 300 Magdalene Laundries in the UK, and another 20 in Scotland, he chose to set the film in an Irish institution. Something to do with obtaining UK funding perhaps?

It took another 10 years for some perspective to be brought to bear on the damage created by the film. The 2013 McAleese Report on the laundries, and the Ryan Report on the general treatment of children in Irish state- and church-run institutions, found that although some abuses did occur, nothing like the events depicted in the film ever happened. Nevertheless, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, made a public apology in 2013 and offered the remaining Magdalene survivors compensation.

Don’t ever assume that ‘works of fiction’ are harmless. They are hugely effective propaganda instruments.

And BTW, I went to Catholic schools myself. Although I became a lapsed Catholic by age 12, overall I really liked the nuns who taught me (although there were a couple of bad-asses, as with all teaching staffs everywhere).
Posted by Killarney, Tuesday, 14 January 2014 10:50:42 PM
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