Now it’s time to hate the nuns

Mary Kenny expresses her views on the new film Philomena

"You willcome out of this film hating these nuns,” predicted a review of the film, Philomena, which is proving to be a huge hit. Yes, that’s exactly what I heard as I emerged from the cinema after seeing the movie on Monday night. “They were evil….dreadful…should have been taken to the cleaners by lawyers…and the money!” were among the overheard comments I caught as we filed out.

I wouldn’t care to be a nun in today’s climate, I thought. It’s not as if the modern nuns in the movie were portrayed as any better than the horrible and punitive Sister Hildegarde, played with flinty menace by the veteran actress Barbara Jefford.  The modern sisters, though no longer in forbidding habit and wimple, were in some ways even creepier, with their nauseating psycho-babble language (“we feel your pain”) and fake sincerity, covering up a load of lies.

The priests have been hated: now it is time for the nuns. I’m really sorry for nuns I have met in recent times who struck me as genuinely kind, merry and caring women who had dedicated their lives to the poor.


However, there is no denying the power and impact of the movie, which is, in my view, made with subtlety, charm and wit. I don’t entirely agree with Aubrey Malone’s fine review last week about Philomena being portrayed as a “silly little Irish woman”.

Judi Dench’s performance is superb, and right from the heart: Philomena came over to the English cinema audience I was with – in a very full cinema – as a person of real faith, whose apparent simplicity belies a shrewd intelligence, a forgiving nature and a wise sense of proportion. It is Philomena who points out, several times, that the authorities who enabled children to be whisked off to America by rich adopting families were only trying to give them a better life. (Steve Coogan’s journalist also brings out something quintessential about the media: even when driven by a sense of injustice, the journalist is even more  driven to get ‘the story’ and to jack it up with the strongest ‘angle’.)


Where I found Philomena evasive and less than honest was the way in which it glided over the core question of young women committed to Magdalen-type laudries. We learned nothing whatsoever about Philomena’s own family: why did they simply disown her, have no further contact, and dump her with the Roscrea nuns? What happened to the father of her child? If she loved him so much, and if he was so wonderful, why did he abandon her and have no further contact with her, or her child?

This is the point that is always evaded in tales of single mothers in hard times. Their families let them down, long before they were subjected to any cruel Magdalen regime. And to be let down by your family is one of the worst fates which can befall any child, because if your family won’t stick up for you, it will be a long time before anyone else does.




Technology and eugenics

Commenting on the film in the Daily Telegraph, the paperís former editor Charles Moore speculates that some 50 years from now, heart-wrenching films will be made about the children who are being brought into the world today by the frightening new bio-technologies: the children born ñ or rather ëcommissionedí, particularly by rich American couples ñ with an egg mother, a (different) womb mother, and a sperm donor father. According to Charles Moore, the bio-technologies making this possible are being funded by, among others, a wealthy gay lobby who are now entitled, by law, to equality in family life.

What is also concerning, of course, is the trend to ëcommissioní babies with specific eugenic qualities: sperm and egg donors who are super-intelligtent, athletic, musical and tall are sought.  I wouldnít want to have been a ëcommissionedí child, wanted only for the maths abilities or athletic skills of sperm and egg donors.




The key to achievement

One of the most encouraging reports about Donal Ryanís best-selling book, The Spinning Heart  ñ long-listed for the prestigeous Booker Prize ñ is that it was rejected 37 times by publishers.

It reminded me of what Sir Laurence Olivier said about what an actor needs:  Talent ñ which must be developed into Skill: Luck ñ which must be deployed into Opportunity: and, above all, Persistence. 

Persistence is anything is the key to achievement – as true in, I feel sure, prayer, as it is in acting or writing.

I admire Donal Ryan for his persistence and self-belief: the book is written in an unusual format, and publishers can be quite conservative ñ sticking with what they know. Donal Ryan is a fine example to young people not to lose heart in the face of setbacks.