Real-Life Philomena Wants Film To Spur Change
The pensioner depicted in the Oscar-nominated film Philomena has said she wants to use her new-found fame to force political change.
Philomena Lee, 81, is leading a campaign to pressure the Irish Republic into opening secret records on 60,000 forced adoptions.
Ms Lee was one of those mothers forcibly separated from her son because he was born out of wedlock - he was then sold for adoption to the US.
The moving and tragic story of her 50-year search for Anthony was adapted for the big screen by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, with Dame Judi Dench in the title role.
In a tearful interview with Sky News, she said: "I saw him going off, his little face looking out the back of the car and that is how I've always remembered him.
"I've never forgotten him to my dying day. The only thing I wanted the whole of my life please God - and I prayed - that one day I would find him. Please God let me find him."
Anthony died from Aids at the age of 42, before Ms Lee could track him down.
He chose to be buried in the grounds of the Mother and Baby Home in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, where he last saw his mother as a three-year-old.
He had visited the home several times in an attempt to find her, but neither mother nor son were able to access information on each other because government institutions kept the files closed.
"Over the years I've gradually let my anger disappear and then I was able to forgive.
"He would have been 62 this year if he was alive. How could you keep a grudge for 62 years? You couldn't because it would eat you away."
The thousands of other mothers who were also forced to put up their children for adoption still can't access their files.
"Something has got to be done about this," insisted Ms Lee.
"Since the film came out, we've been absolutely inundated from people in the same boat as I was."
Through the Philomena Project, she and her daughter Jane are lobbying Irish, UK and US politicians - even the Pope - to release the birth records held by government and religious institutions.
"In UK law you are allowed to gain access to information that would help you trace your mother or your child should they both want that to happen," says Coogan, who plays the role of journalist Martin Sixsmith in the film.
"That's not a legal right in Ireland and that is why Philomena is campaigning to have the law changed - and I say all power to her in that."
The project has partnered with the Adoption Rights Alliance, which has fought on this issue for many years.
The Alliance's Susan Lohan said: "The Irish government wants the vast majority of mothers to have died before the children can actually have access to their files, so the two parties can't compare notes and realise the extent to which the state engaged in a forced adoption industry."
In Irish law, no-one who was adopted has an automatic right to information on their birth parents.
Ms Lee has been invited to attend the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles on Sunday where the film is in the running for four awards including best picture, best actress for Dame Judi, and best adapted screenplay for Coogan and Pope.
"It has been such an experience in the last three months. I can't believe what's happened to me," she added.
"I was just an ordinary lady. I have a loving family. Three months ago I had a lovely quiet life in St Albans but since then it has just hit me.