News / Arts & Entertainment

Real-life 'Philomena' Fights to Help Mothers Find Lost Children

Oscar-nominated 'Philomena' Tells Story of Loss, Forgivenessi
February 21, 2014 1:32 AM
Stephen Frears’ Oscar-nominated drama "Philomena" tells the true story of Philomena Lee. Fifty years ago, as a pregnant Irish-Catholic teenager, Lee was sent to a local convent and forced her to give her child up for adoption. As VOA’s Penelope Poulou reports, the real Philomena now is using her new-found fame to help others find their lost children.
Penelope Poulou
Stephen Frears’ Oscar-nominated drama Philomena tells the true story of Philomena Lee. 

Fifty years ago, as a pregnant Irish-Catholic teenager, Lee was disowned by her family and sent to a local convent. There, she was forced her to give up her child for adoption. She never saw him again. 

Now, just a few weeks before the Academy Awards, the real Philomena Lee is using her newfound fame to help others find their lost children.

Difficult journey

After losing his job, former BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan in the film, teams up with Lee to help her find her lost son and to write an article about it. During their journey, the unlikely pair develops a bond and their mother-son type of relationship permeates the movie.

Dame Judi Dench captures the essence of the real Philomena -- gracious, optimistic, strong. The action by the nuns of an Irish convent more than 50 years ago to take her son away shook her faith but did not destroy it.

"Who could keep up a grudge...I couldn't anyway," Lee said in an interview with VOA . "Especially with my religious teaching I couldn't because you were always taught to forgive and turn the other cheek...I gradually learned to do that."

Lee discovered that her son Anthony, renamed Michael Hess, was a lawyer for the Republican National Committee in the 1980s, and died of AIDS at the age of 43.

“I tell you," Lee said, "it was like I was losing him twice.”

Philomena Project

Now, Lee’s goal is to help Irish women like her locate their lost children. She and her daughter, Jane Libberton, have started the “Philomena Project,” a campaign asking Irish authorities to open the files of thousands of children allegedly sold into adoption by the Irish Catholic church.

Philomena Lee, right, and her daughter Jane Libberton in Rome on Feb. 6, 2014, a day after meeting with Pope Francis.Philomena Lee, right, and her daughter Jane Libberton in Rome on Feb. 6, 2014, a day after meeting with Pope Francis.
Philomena Lee, right, and her daughter Jane Libberton in Rome on Feb. 6, 2014, a day after meeting with Pope Francis.
Philomena Lee, right, and her daughter Jane Libberton in Rome on Feb. 6, 2014, a day after meeting with Pope Francis.
“Yes, they did say they didn't [sell] babies and no money exchanged hands but I know that people do have documents that say something else," said Libberton, adding that thousands of babies were taken from their mothers. “I think there were about 2,000 children like Anthony that were adopted to the United States.”

Dench says telling Philomena’s story was a huge responsibility. She was as awed to meet Lee as Lee was to meet the actress.

“She was sitting right behind me with her hand on my shoulder," Dench said during a screening of the film. "I can’t tell you what I saw on screen because all I was conscious of was the hand on my shoulder.”

Lee said, “I just stood behind her with my hand on her shoulder and watched the funny bit of it when she is on the trolley in the airport. She was so lovely.”

Lee is now leaving her quiet world in Ireland and heading to Hollywood in time for the Oscar ceremony on March 2.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope Condemns IS 'Persecution' of Minorities

Pope delivers annual 'Urbi et Orbi' (to the city and the world) blessing, appeals for end to conflicts in Africa, dialogue in Middle East, condemns Taliban attack in Pakistan More

China Reduces Number of Crimes Punishable by Death

Earlier this year China announced plans to remove nine crimes from the list of capital offenses, including counterfeiting, fraudulent fund-raising and forcing others into prostitution More

Analysis: For N. Koreans, Parody Has Grave Tone

Most North Koreans who might see 'The Interview' would be horribly offended, outraged, and confused More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Rob Swift from: Great Britain
February 21, 2014 4:33 PM
Somewhere behind all that happened here lies an attempt to subvert the historical process (scatter the chosen ones). It lies on a par with herod having the children killed. Throughout history the parallels do not change. Incidentally both with herod and with this the (so called) authorities failed miserably. All (proper) authority comes from God who is Truth.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syriai
Jeff Seldin
December 24, 2014 11:38 PM
Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria

Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaise

Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

Video Mombasa in Holiday Tourism Slump Due to Security Fears

Kenya's usually popular beachside tourist destination of Mombasa is seeing a much slower holiday season this year due to fears of insecurity as the country has suffered from a string of terror attacks linked to Somali militants. Mohammed Yusuf reports for VOA on how businessmen and tourists feel about the situation.

Video For Somalis, 2014 Marked by Political Instability Within Government

While Somalia has long been torn apart by warfare and violence, this year one of the country's biggest challenges has come from within the government, as political infighting curtails the country's progress, threatens security gains and disappoints the international community. VOA's Gabe Joselow report.

Video US Political Shift Could Affect Iran Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis are continuing into 2015 after Iran and six world powers failed to agree by a November deadline. U.S. domestic politics, however, could complicate efforts to reach a deal in the new year. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.

Video NYSE: The Icon of Capitalism

From its humble beginnings in 1792 to its status as an economic bellweather for the world, the New York Stock Exchange is an integral part of the story of America. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from Wall Street.

Video Islamic State Emergence Transforms Syria and Iraq in 2014

The emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as a potent force in early 2014 changed the dynamics of the region. Their brutal methods - including executions and forced slavery - horrified the international community, drawing Western forces into the conflict. It also splintered the war in Syria, where more than 200,000 Syrians have died in the conflict. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell looks back at a deadly year in the region -- and what 2015 may hold.

Video Massive Study Provides Best Look at Greenland Ice Loss Yet

The Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than predicted, according to a new study released in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences that combines NASA satellite data and aerial missions. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the finding means coastal communities worldwide could be at greater risk, sooner, from the impact of rising seas.

Video US Marines, Toys for Tots Bring Christmas Joy

Christmas is a time for giving in the United States, especially to young children who look forward to getting presents. But some families don't have money to buy gifts. For nearly 70 years, a U.S. Marines-sponsored program has donated toys and distributed them to underprivileged children during the holiday season. VOA's Deborah Block tells us about the annual Toys for Tots program.

Video France Rocked by Attacks as Fear of ISIS-Inspired Terror Grows

Eleven people were injured, two seriously, when a man drove his car into crowds of pedestrians Sunday night in the French city of Dijon, shouting ‘God is Great’ in Arabic. It’s the latest in a series of apparent ‘lone-wolf’ terror attacks in the West. Henry Ridgwell looks at the growing threat of attacks, which security experts say are likely inspired by the so-called "Islamic State" terror group.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.

All About America


New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."