Wednesday 17 January 2018

Philomena movie spurs call over 'stolen babies'

Focus on unmarried Irish mothers forced to give up children

HENRY McDONALD

PHILOMENA is a small film that is defying box-office conventions; the audience keeps on growing while other, bigger titles fade.

The emotional story starring Steve Coogan and Dame Judi Dench of the brutal separation of an Irish mother and her child has become a word-of-mouth hit, beating even action blockbuster Thor: The Dark World at the UK box office one day last week.

Now, the trenchant message of Philomena is having an impact on the lives of many families here in Ireland who believe that they were also the victims of church dogma – their babies taken away because their unmarried mothers were judged immoral.

The performance by Dame Judi Dench, internationally famous for playing James Bond's steely-eyed boss M, is expected to win nominations for a string of acting prizes in the coming awards season. It has also reignited controversy here at home about the damage done when so-called "stolen babies" were offered by Catholic institutions to couples living as far away as the United States.

Adoption rights organisations in the Republic say calls to their offices in Dublin and hits on their Facebook pages have trebled since the film opened to critical acclaim at the beginning of the month.

The real-life story of Dench's character, Philomena Lee, has prised open a scandal that campaigners say will be even bigger than the enslavement of teenage girls in the Catholic Church-run Magdalene Laundries, or the abuse of boys in Ireland's notorious Industrial Schools.

Meanwhile, the children of thousands of other "Philomenas" appealed this weekend to Dench to call for an Irish state inquiry into the scandal. They want the veteran actor to champion their cause across the world and at award ceremonies, such as the Oscars.

And yesterday Coogan, her co-star and one of the film's writers, said: "I will absolutely do anything to help them. The church reaction has been same old, same old. I am happy to wade in."

The Adoption Rights Alliance has reported a threefold increase in calls from children who were adopted since the film was released.

Susan Lohan, who co-founded the Adoption Rights Alliance and was taken away from her mother in 1965, said so-called "banished and stolen babies" would be delighted if Dench spoke out for their campaign for justice.

Lohan, who lives in Malahide, eventually found out that her mother was a 30-year-old civil servant who had been forced to give her up.

"We desperately want Dame Judi to highlight that, if Anthony Lee were alive today and looking for his mother, Philomena, that he would face the same problems as shown in the film."

© Observer

Sunday Independent

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