The Real Philomena Might Just Melt Your Heart

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Anyone who's seen Philomena knows it's a story that is almost too heartbreaking to be true — and yet, it's pretty spot-on. Judi Dench's rendering of a woman who, as a young girl, suffered through some very corrupt adoption practices in post-WWII Ireland is a veritable icon of clemency and calm, determined to see good in a world that had been harsh to her in more ways than one. So, when we spoke to the real Philomena Lee, we could barely believe that such open-mindedness was possible. The truth, though, is that it's even more incredible than on screen. Check out our Q&A with the lady herself (and her daughter, Jane), below. Fair warning, though: Be prepared to experience a serious desire to hug her through your laptop.

Do you ever feel resentment towards the church and the nuns who put your son up for adoption? What's the role of religion in your life now?

"For a while, after Antony had gone, I lost a lot of my religion because I was so angry...but later, I went to work in a psychiatric hospital. I worked there for 30 years. I can assure you, working in a psychiatric hospital, you see life as it is. For a few years there, I was still really upset, less angry, but I always prayed. Regarding a lot of the doctrines we learned as children in Ireland, though, I just completely gave them up. But, over the years seeing so much sorrow, so much hurt, so much pain caused through anger, I managed to let my anger go. And, now, I've gone back to my religion. I firmly believe."

Sometimes in the film, it seemed like others were more angry on your behalf than you were. Is that true?

Jane: "Steve Coogan took some of my anger and put that into his character. I'm like my mum, I'm not particularly angry about what happened, because that's the way society was. My anger stems from the fact that we went looking for Antony, and he went looking for us, and they wouldn't give us the information."

Philomena: "He passed away thinking I had abandoned him...sometimes that's very painful to put up with. But again, those were the times, that's what happened. But, I always say, he remembered me from three-and-a-half years of age and I don't care what people say. I believe he remembered me, because he tried to find me."


How do you think your situation would have been different if you'd had access to birth control? If you were in the same situation in modern times, what different decisions would you make?

"It would be completely different now. The laws have changed so much. I'm so glad about that because people can make their own decisions. We didn't really make our own decisions, we were told, it was never discussed with us. It's so different now, and I'm glad about that."

What would you say to a young woman in your situation now? Any advice?

"She'd have to think very deeply about it and have discussions with whoever is involved. I would tell her it would be a very painful decision, especially if she got close to the baby. I don't know what I would say...I would try and advise her to keep the baby. Really and truly. I would really try and advise her and help her and talk it through with her, and say, 'If you can possibly, no matter how hard it's going to be, keep the baby if you can.'"

The Catholic church has evolved a lot over the decades, but some doctrines — particularly about abortion — remain quite rigid. What are your thoughts?

"They don't believe in abortion, of course. I don't believe in abortion myself, at least, where I'm concerned — but I can only speak for myself. It's up to the individual. I don't know if I could cope with it, but every lady has to decide for herself. It depends on the situation, some people just can't have babies. I do believe in birth control, though."

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