News / Arts & Entertainment

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

Oscar-nominated 'Philomena' Tells Story of Loss, Forgivenessi
X
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.
x
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

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

At Washington’s Blues Alley jazz singer Jane Monheit and her quartet perform songs made famous by Judy Garland. Monheit sits down with "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten to talk about her music, the singers who influence her, and her life traveling with family on tour.