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Real-life Philomena says film is not 'anti-Catholic'

A New York Post review described the film as '90 minutes of organised hate'

The real-life inspiration behind hit movie Philomena has defended Stephen Frears’ film after a New York Post reviewer labelled it “anti-Catholic”.

Film critic Kyle Smith wrote that the sole purpose of the film was to "simultaneously attack Catholics and Republicans", arguing that only audiences who enjoy watching “90 minutes of organised hate” should bother buying tickets.

"A film that is half as harsh on Judaism or Islam, of course, wouldn’t be made in the first place but would be universally reviled if it were," Smith wrote, describing Philomena as "a sugary slice of arsenic cake".

The film, based on the true story of Philomena Lee’s search for the illegitimate son she put up for adoption in 1950s Catholic Ireland, stars Steve Coogan and Dame Judi Dench.

Lee hit back at the harsh review in a letter published in the New York Times, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times today, claiming that the film is “something extraordinary and quite real”.

"Despite some of the troubles that befell me as a young girl, I have always maintained a very strong hold on my faith," she wrote. "Philomena is meant to be a testament to good things, not an attack."

"I have been incredibly fortunate in receiving such a warm response to the movie," she continued. "Just as I forgave the church for what happened with my son, I forgive you for not taking the time to understand my story."

Lee's letter has been published as part of a Weinstein Company advertisement for the film, with lines from Smith's review also included. Readers are invited to decide for themselves whether Philomena is, as Smith argues "another hateful attack on Catholics" or as  Lee defends, "‘a testament to good things".

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Philomena Lee's letter in today's New York Times

The nuns portrayed in Philomena claimed last month they were misrepresented in the film, which suggests they obstructed Lee's efforts to find her son, burned records relating to the birth and were paid to put children up for adoption.

Sister Julie from the nunnery featured in the film said it "does not tell the whole truth and in many ways is very misleading".

A spokesperson from the film's production company said: "If the congregations have seen the film, they will know that it is not a diatribe against the Catholic Church but it does challenge the Church’s instinct to conceal the original wrong and to refuse to apologise."

The Independent awarded Philomena five stars in November with reviewer Geoffrey MacNab praising "an unabashed tearjerker" that sees Dame Judi Dench in "national treasure mode".

"Philomena is so beautifully written and performed that it goes far beyond sitcom-style stereotyping," he wrote.