Philomena Lee Biography, Search For Son
At the age of 19, Philomena Lee gave birth to an illegitmate son, whom she named Anthony. She entered a Cathalic home for pregnant teens, and the Church took him away from her. She spent the next 50 years searching for him. As part of her search, she contacted the convent that took Anthony away in the first place, and they told her all documents had been destroyed, which turned out to be a lie. She received help from former journalist Martin Sixsmith. The Sixthsmith's story on Lee became the basis for the Oscar-nominated fim Philomenia.
Though Lee's relationship with the Church was strained after they took her son, she remained faithful to the religion. "I have my faith. I lost it for a little while but I have got it back it, and I’m not against the Catholic Church at all," Lee told Uinterview in an exclusive interview. "It was the times, these things happened, it’s different world today."
Philomena Lee Discovers Son's Identity
Sixsmith became involved with the case when a friend of Lee's daughter Jane Libberton told Sixsmith Lee's story. "[A mutual friend] bumped into him at a party and told him the story and he offered his help," Libberton told Uinterview. "I was prompted because I couldn’t find any further information. I’d gone and written to everybody I could possibly write to and there wasn’t anywhere else that I could go, so meeting him was fantastic because, obviously, he started us off on this incredible journey."
Lee, with the help of Sixsmith, eventually discovered her son’s identity. Anthony had been adopted by an American family and named Michael Hess. He was a senior lawyer in the Reagan administration and was a closeted gay man living with his partner. By the time Lee and Sixsmith found him, he had been dead for nine years due to complications from AIDS. “I had no issues about [Anthony/Michael] being gay at all. No issues,” Lee told Uinterview exclusively. “The only sad part that he had died, that’s what hurt, you know? But as for Anthony being gay, that wasn’t an issue with me.” She expressed happiness that the gay community has embraced the film.
Sixsmith realized that he had actually met Hess before while visiting the Regan White House. Lee later found out that the convent had not told her the whole truth about her son, including the fact that he had searched for her unsuccessfully as well.
Philomena Book, Film
Sixsmith took Lee’s story and turned it into the book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee. The book was later turned into a film starring Dame Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the film, and Sophie Kennedy Clark.
Lee was impressed by Dench's performance in the film. “She portrayed me so well, she did a wonderful job, she really did,” Lee said. “Before the movie started we had a few meetings. We sat down to lunch and met in different places and she actually got the essence of what I was like and we found we had quite a few things in common as well, so that helped as well.”