Steve Coogan mendaciously blackens the name of Sr Hildegard McNulty in his film Philomena

Steve Coogan, as the director, writer and lead actor in the film Philomena is directly responsible for blackening the name of Sr Hildegard McNulty through portraying her as being cruel, judgmental and obstructive towards a woman seeking her adopted son in a meeting that happened nine years after Sr Hildegard’s death.  The film Philomena is based on Martin Sixsmith’s book which tells the story of his assistance of Philomena Lee searching for her son adopted by a couple in the US. Sr Hildegard died in 1995, Mr Sixsmith started work on his book in 2004, meaning a meeting between them was impossible. Steve Coogan’s film company justified the mendacious misrepresentation of Sr Hildegard by claiming ‘dramatic licence’.  But his misrepresentation of Sr Hildegard goes deeper than misrepresenting a fictional meeting.

Sr Julie Rose, assistant congregational leader of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, told The Tablet, ‘contrary to the film’s portayal, Sr Hildegarde was instrumental in reuniting many mothers with their children.’

‘”The film company confirmed to us in writing at an early stage of production that a second meeting with Sr Hildegarde (which never occurred in reality) would be incorporated into the film and dramatic licence was the reason given to us.”

‘A Tablet reader said there were “gasps of dismay” in a crowded London cinema during the scene with Sr Hildegarde. “People would have left the film with an abiding sense of an unreconstructed Catholic Church. It’s shocking that this scene was pure invention on the part of the film-makers,” the reader wrote.’

Philomena, which says it is based on true events, shows the sisters as obstructive to Philomena and her son’s efforts to find each other, presenting them as burning records and being paid to put children up for adoption.

Sr Julie also denied that the order destroyed any records held by them over the years and insisted that they never received any payment in relation to adoption. She added that they would not have withheld information “as is being suggested, without lawful reason.”

Protect the Pope comment: Why would Steve Coogan knowingly misrepresent Sr Hidegard McNulty who was known for helping mothers seeking to be re-united with their children?  Clearly Coogan made the decision that showing Sr Hildegard helping mothers find their children would not sell his film, but catering to the liberal anti-Catholic prejudice would appeal to his audience.  Like the anti-Catholic Protestants before them this generation of liberal secularists like nothing better than watching films and reading books that portrays Catholics as twisted, cruel and inhuman. This projection of their own shadow helps them ignore the fact that they zealously support the murder of unborn children through abortion.

35 comments to Steve Coogan mendaciously blackens the name of Sr Hildegard McNulty in his film Philomena

  • Shaun the Sheep

    ”Steve Coogan, as the director, writer and lead actor in the film Philomena is directly responsible for blackening the name of Sr Hildegard McNulty through portraying her as being cruel, judgmental and obstructive towards a woman seeking her adopted son in a meeting that happened nine years after Sr Hildegard’s death.”

    So… the mother met with an apparition of Sr Hildegard, 9 years after she died?

  • Joe

    1. In evaluating the film Philomena, I do think it is useful to be aware of where the film differs from the actual events that, to quote the film’s credits, “inspired” the film. The statement from the Sisters reported in the Tablet is useful in this. There are other significant differences too. In real life, for example, Philomena Lee did not accompany Martin Sixsmith to the United States, something that is quite central to the narrative of the film. If I understand correctly, too, Philomena was for many years not a practising Catholic, where the film suggests that she is.
    2. I do not believe the film to be an anti-Catholic film. One feature of the film is a kind of dialogue between (sceptical) Martin Sixsmith/Steve Coogan and the (believing) Philomena/Judi Dench around their respective responses to the situation of Philomena’s search for her son and the difficulties to this search presented by the sisters. This gives the film a representative rather than a literal/documentary character – and it is in this context that I think the final scenes (which show Sr Hildegard in a less than positive light) need to be understood. While it may be legitimate for the sisters to point out that Sr Hildegard as portrayed in the film, is not the real Sr Hildegard, nevertheless the significance of what her character represents in the film is something that needs to be recognised.
    3. I believe the film usefully represents different responses to the experience of women such as Philomena, and represents those responses in a genuine dialogue with each other rather than as conflicting ideologies.
    4. The obstructive attitude of the sisters to Philomena’s efforts to find her son, as portrayed in the film, is utterly incomprehensible – and it was that which struck me rather more in watching the film than Sr Hildegard’s unfeeling attitude portrayed in the final scenes. So far as I have been able to determine, the representative character of the film in this regard is accurate to the real events. (I would be happy to be corrected if this is wrong …) The unfortunate aspect of the sisters statement, as reported, is that it does not appear to address this aspect of the film, and nor does it appear to address the practice of involuntary adoption.
    4. I recommend seeing the film. As the SIGNIS jury indicated when they gave Philomena their award at the Venice Film Festival: the Award was given to the film “for its vibrant and touching portrait of a woman whose faith sets her free. In her search for the truth, she is further liberated from the burden of the injustice done to her, when she overcomes it with forgiveness”. By all means be aware of where the film differs from reality … but that does not undermine the film’s real and quite genuine value.
    [And for the journalists ... there is a sub-theme involving the ethics of journalistic practice ...I missed it watching the film, and only recognised it after reading reviews.]

    • Joseph Matthew

      The problem with your analysis Joe is that “dramatic licence” flows one way. Can you imagine a film in which President Obama is held responsible for the killing of innocent civilians? Or where a national treasure such as Stephen Fry is portrayed as going on a racist rant against the Poles? Liberals it seems are exempt from dramatic licence.
      These days we deal with Philomena’s difficulties in a more sophisticated way:we persuade her to have an abortion.
      At the time these things were happening, many UK psychiatric hospitals admitted patients for the crime of fornication.They stayed there for years. Worth a film?

    • Teresa

      I absolutely agree with Joe; although I think it would have been more ethical to use a fictional name, rather than use Sr Hildegard’s name.

      On the whole though, The Catholic Church in Ireland of this period has a lot to be ashamed of and I think it really isn’t much good to try to deflect the issue . Abortion is a great sin but the abuse of children and unmarried mothers is also a sin . We shouldn’t just say ” Yes but what about abortion – isn’t that worse?” .

      Sorry Deacon Nick – I normally agree with you but I am heartily sick of things I hear about the Church in Ireland . ( Not things I hear from the media but things I hear from other Mass goers – their own personal stories. )

      • Joseph Matthew

        Teresa, there was and is something to be ashamed of in Ireland but it reflects the state we are in. Where do bad priests and bad nuns come from? They reflect the society and the values of that society.
        I for one am forever grateful for the wonderful Irish priests and nuns I met in London and elsewhere.A dying breed and they deserve better than being villified.

      • Wake up England

        Dear Theresa:

        Your post seems very like a generalised smear.

        If you’re going to point fingers at the Catholic Church in Ireland, then be specific and give examples – not gossipy hints.

        Your post above is completely unsubstantiated; highly subjective and extremely vague.

        Zero points for being constructive, I’m sorry to see.

        • Teresa

          Sorry but it is quite hard to be constructive all the time. I felt that the audience on this site was one to whom I could let off steam without causing too much harm . I am sorry to offend you and did not intend a “generalised smear” as that would indeed be most unfair to the many good priests and nuns of Ireland ( some of whom are relatives of mine).Nevertheless I do feel we have lessons to learn from these events and we must face up to them .

  • Dilly

    Dear Deacon Nick

    Your readers may want to point this out in the user review sections at the following two major sites

    where already the anti-catholic remardks are in full flow.

  • Rifleman 819

    Deacon Nick ,

    Sad but predictable.

    Would they make a similar film about Female Genital Mutilation -with a few Somali-Brits/US/Canadian actresses in the lead roles?

    I doubt it …..and we all know why.

  • Rifleman 819

    Deacon Nick ,
    Tangentially linked because he investigated Irish clergy abuse claims…but have you heard that Mgr Mark O’ Toole, former private secretary to ++ Cardinal CMOC….is named as the next Bishop of Plymouth?

  • Jacinta

    As an Irish adopted person who has met birth mothers who knew and had experience of Sr Hildegard the film’s portrayal is quiet lenient on her!

    • Joseph Matthew

      And others have a different opinion that Sr Hildegard was one who went out of her way to reconcile children with their mothers. And what about the huge numbers of similar situations that occured in the non-Catholic sectors?

  • Celia

    Film and TV like a simplistic and consistent story. For the moment, unfortunately, Catholic priests and religious are always to be portrayed as cruel and abusive (although if homosexual they’re allowed to be a bit tormented, e.g. Neil Jordan’s ‘Priest’). A parallel, though, please God, no-one’s likely to make a film about him, is the treatment of Pope Benedict by the media.
    Something to do with ‘Macdonaldisation’, that is, give the consumer something familiar and undemanding to watch.
    I’ve no idea how true these seemingly endless allegations about cruel nuns are. I can only say that 50 or 60 years ago attitudes were very different than they are now in all sorts of areas. My younger friends find it appalling that children were frequently hit at school for misbehaviour- we regarded it as normal. In the same way, unmarried mothers were strongly disapproved of by everyone-not just nuns or Catholics- and it was regarded as good practice to completely sever ties between an adopted child and its mother.

  • Rifleman 819

    Deacon Nick,

    I understand that both Messrs Coogan and Sixsmith are cradle Catholics who like making money by mocking the Church in writing anti-Catholic porn for the liberal intelligensia, who of course lap it up..

    And naturally at the hour of their death their view will probably be different.They may need the comfort of Catholic clergy and religious.

    Much more lucrative to stereotype nuns rather than imams or muftis isn’t it?

    After all Irish nuns won’t hit back , will they?

    Brave, bold boys the pair of them.

  • Is this the same Steve Coogan who was so scathing about press intrusion and inaccuracy at the Leveson inquiry?

  • Shaun the Sheep


    ”Steve Coogan, as the director, writer and lead actor in the film Philomena is directly responsible for blackening the name of Sr Hildegard McNulty through portraying her as being cruel, judgmental and obstructive towards a woman seeking her adopted son in a meeting that happened nine years after Sr Hildegard’s death.”

    So… the mother met with an apparition of Sr Hildegard, 9 years after she died?

  • Burt

    Steve Coogan is a sad, nasty little man. His comedy is miserabilist and jaded, misanthropic effluence. He is self loathing and reveals his own inner turmoil all too well. Coogan IS Alan Partridge, and Partridge IS Coogan. I see through him anyway.

  • Graham Swift

    I have just returned from seeing the film. It’s a good film, sensitively portrayed and appropriately sad – I would say that Joe’s review above is very good and balanced. Obviously it’s not 100% accurate in every detail (as few films are) but I didn’t view it as an attempt to castigate the catholic church at all. Sr Hildergard may have been dead for that second fictitious meeting but I think the film’s dialogue here is an attempt to link the thinking and mentality of previous times that sought to justify involuntary adoption and these types of reparative institutions.

    Having said such, I find the comments on this blog posting very troublesome and overly defensive. Firstly, because presumably most of the commenters haven’t actually been to see the film and so are speaking from a point of ignorance. Secondly, because there is a mentality to defend the church no matter what even when it may be at fault in some way. The lack of reflectivity in these people is astounding. There may be many factors which caused these sad historical events to happen but the Irish catholic church was complicit in some way and must acknowledge and accept some blame and remorse. You cannot have a tantrum every time there is some justified criticism saying it’s not fair and blaming everyone else without accepting some institutional fault. Whatever the exact details, this religious order was less than helpful to the point of being obstructive or deliberately misleading when adopted children or unwed mothers later made contact and tried to trace each other. Just read the book (if you don’t like the film).

    • John Reardon

      Spot on, Graham. If anything, the film goes too easy on the church. When is the church going to be able to accept criticism without all of this shameful whining and defensiveness and labelling its critics as “anti-Catholic”? It’s as bad as Israelis labelling anyone critical of their government’s actions in the Occupied Territories as being anti-semitic.

  • johnny

    Coogan is interested in fame and money not facts.
    In the clips I watched Steve Coogan’s acting technique and instead of his usual two dimensional character portrayal I saw a new side of him evolve with that facial expression – the ‘pained wince’. He is Partridge.

  • Graham Swift

    Johnny – he may well be interested in fame and money but that doesn’t mean the film is rubbish or anti-Catholic. I note you haven’t watched the film only a couple of clips, so hardly qualified to comment. I find all you people really want to do is rant and make excuses for the behaviour of the catholic church in the past.

  • I find it interesting that so many on here, likely with no direct experience of adoption (as in, are not adult adopted people or mothers/fathers of loss), find it healthy or ethical to hijack the narrative of those of us who lived this. Poster “Jacinta” above actually tells you she is an Irish adopted adult and attests to what the reality was and is for us, yet you are completely dismissive of her personal narrative. You do not have that right. I could regale you here for hours with legions of documented, horrible stories involving Sister Hildegarde and her colleagues at Sacred Heart’s other two mother-baby homes in Bessboro, Cork and Castlepollard, Westmeath. And not only involving the treatment of our mothers, but also the more recent treatment of families who sought the assistance of Sacred Heart’s post-adoption services in an effort to learn where they came from and possibly make contact with other family members. And when I say families, that includes adoptive parents. My adoptive mother attempted to get information for my brother and I back in 1983 and was told an outright series of lies about both our mothers. We have regularly been faced with lies, misinformation, marginalized treatment and even threatened lawsuits (the nuns infiltrated a private online group some years ago and tried to legally block people from sharing their personal experiences; obviously the suits went nowhere). The complaints were legion and so overwhelming that the Adoption Authority of Ireland finally deregistered Sacred Heart as an adoption society/post-adoption services provider in 2010 and handed the records over to relevant Health Service Executive branches. And ultimately, we still have no legal access under Irish law to our original birth certificates, despite that this same access has been available to citizens in the UK since 1976, and to citizens in four US states.

    We still await fulsome, formal apologies from the four religious congregations who ran Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, and they still refuse to contribute to the State’s compensation scheme for these women, despite that they never paid the women for commercial work nor contributed toward pensions as required by law. Remorse, hubris and a sense of dignity and humanity should not just be the province of the Irish State or the general public. If the Catholic Church has any chance to survive and be seen as credible and compassionate, they must take the first steps toward admitting the wrongs of the past (and present) and not continually attempt to dodge the truth. You may say I have an “axe to grind,” but the truth is I am a stakeholder…it is my life and narrative, as well as my mother’s and I refuse to let Church spin doctors attempt to whitewash or re-write that narrative. Show some compassion, as Jesus would rightly do, and stop trying to dodge bullets and live in denial. And above all, stop being disrespectful of those of us who lived this. It’s just disingenuous and mean.

  • Kim Serrahn
    If you want to know the truth about what happened in Ireland I suggest you look up this two links I’ve posted. And what you will find there is not fiction or poetic license.

  • Kate Sheahan Crawford

    Defensive much? Geez, Deacon Nick, are you an adult adoptee from Sean Ross Abbey? Are you an adult adoptee from any of the Mother & Baby Homes in Ireland? No? Are you even aware that there are thousands of us in the US and other countries who were taken from our mothers as toddlers and shipped off to new parents? No? Are you aware that the various orders of Catholic nuns who ran the M&B Homes hardly ever gave concrete, useable information when adoptees came searching for their parents? Are you aware that even today, access to our most basic personal information such as birth certificates, birth parents’ names, and medical histories can be incredibly difficult to obtain, even though the nuns have held those files since our births? No? I hope you carefully read Mari Steed’s comments above and will take a look at the facebook link Kim Serrahn posted as well. Shame on you for being so afraid that a nun’s DOCUMENTED misdeeds might be discovered that you would deny what too many of us know to be true. I AM an adult adoptee who was taken from her mother as a toddler from a Mother & Baby Home in Dublin in the 1960s and I know what my journey to find my roots has cost me. Do yourself a favor and spend a few weeks actually researching what happened in Ireland from 1940 – 1973 and then see if you still feel like making insulting comments about Philomena.

  • Kim Serrahn

    As an adoptee myself I know the feeling of these people. I have never felt like I belonged, to the family I was in or that anyone truly wanted me. This film gives to the outside world a look at what happened in the Magdalene Laundries, women and girls that were told that they were shameful for what they did. But no one ever blamed the father of the children always the mother. Shamed by self serving and overly righteous nuns and the church. This women did nothing except get pregnant and were then ostracized by their families and their Church. They had no home to go back to and because their labor was needed so these same nuns could have time for prayer and reflection they were kept in the laundries. The children of the mothers deserve, as is their right, to know who they are and the Church must stand up for it’s wrong doing in this. There may have been some poetic license taken but it was only to get a point across and all those that are now calling for the heads of the director and the producers need to get off their knees and out of the pews and help these adoptees instead of just criticizing. And as for these guys being cradle Catholics it seems to me that that is the pot calling the kettle black. Get off you knees Deacon Donnelly and help don’t hinder. You may be surprised at what you find within yourself if you do.

  • The Catholic Church is guilty of this and oh so much more. As an Irish infant child slave,, sentenced in Carlow Court at two years of age, my parents exiled to UK. It was a very lonley 14 years,, of brutal,, starved, beaten almost to death twice. Whats wrong with wanting loving parents and having a right to life. My ambition is still to destroy everything Vatican,, Popery and Catholic. I hate these inhuman people. They even sold my baby sister at 24 hours old. And never lived in Ireland as a free person.

  • This onslaught of dissection in a negative manner is outrageous!! I agree with all those who like myself living proof of Philomena Lee plight to find her son. For I too looked for 20 years for my birth mom in Ireland and was met with nothing but lies and resistance by my Bessboro Cork Ireland Mother Superior at the time.
    Sr. Hildegard was use of a character with very oppressive-angry-secretive and protective role. She was portrayed very accurately. Philomena Lee is real and living and had a heart wrenching story to share. For I had the same journey she had. My Birth mom could not search for me for she was locked up in Magdalene Laundries for over 40 years–hence–she could not search for me. But I indeed search for her. For I was taken from her womb and placed in Bessboro convent for 4 and half years with many other little children and babies. My birth mom birthed me and was caught putting baby booties on me and punished and chastised by sisters and staff and moved out of building and transferred to another institution to work hard labor and free back breaking work at said place and told “you are to repent for your sin’s and never see your child again–you are a sinner”. This is not old news or historic revelation. This attitude of Catholic church continues. My birth mother was victim of encounter with a male (my father) a police officer who wanted to use her for an evening. She sinned!! I don’t think so!! Yet she was beaten–brainwashed–told she is no longer welcome to the outside world–she headed all the daily warnings and threats and stayed suffering. Through the Grace of God she was removed from institution when my blood family realized my birth mom was not being cared for and not in safe hands. Unlike Philomena Lee who finally found out her son had died I lived and successfully found her. A beaten down-broken hearted woman with her true life behind the walls of a convent that left her empty and ashamed to lift her head. This is all true and in 2002 I returned to where I was born and there were still 10 mothers with 10 babies present in the same building I was in. I also visited the boarded up “labor camp convent” my birth mom lived in for 40 years.
    This movie was to shed light on the sins of those who were suppose to care for and support the lonely-violated-or abandoned men and woman some young as 12 years old. They were suppose to be protected. This did not happen. I live to tell the truth. I was lied too as well and every step I took to find my health history or family of origin I was met by twisted stories.
    This movie did miss some major issues but Philomena Lee lives on and has opened the eyes and told of some dirty laundry hidden among “servants of the Lord”. I am a very spiritual and loving person. And I lived through this and know the truth for I lived it. I have grown and was at my birth mothers dying bedside to care for her. That was a gift and if it wasn’t for the help of others who walked in my shoes I would of never had my most glorious time in my life!! Meeting my birth mom and learning who I was and where I came from.
    Philomena Lee and mothers like mine are in the thousands out there and we know the truth. And we are open minded and did not dissect and ridicule the heart warming story of a very humble-loving and kind humanitarian named Philomena Lee. She has nothing to gain–she has no hatred or vengeance in her heart. She lives on now with closure and at peace visiting her darling son’s grave. Thanks to Philomena she has opened the doors of one of many secrets and lies done upon thousands in the past and still goes on today.
    Just continue to scream out “lies-deception-never could happen” spin and you closed minded people wait until all the children today who are being adopted from other countries by very rich Hollywood stars and the children will be full of questions and certainly be on the internet looking for answers one of these days!! This is only the beginning!! We have only scratched the surface! The truth always prevails and comes out! The gloating Hollywood stars being commended for “saving poor little orphans”!! Wake up World!! We are not orphans. We have families and you stole us little ones and sold us from our blood lines.
    Accept the movie as it is–it is just a peek into the oppression and slavery that still goes on and the trafficking of innocent children who are suppose to be protected for there lives. Names and characters in movies are always protected–get real–but Philomena Lee is a living breathing wonderful human being who should be commended for telling her story and showing the world what happened to her when she gave birth in Ireland. What media and spin doctors do with it is on them for there own ego’s.
    If you don’t believe myself and others that have lived this-and Hollywood lights your fire than go speak to Dame Dench for she met and has tea with Philomena often and respects her and admires this outstanding woman tremendously and was proud to come forth and take part in playing the role of Philomena Lee.
    Stop destroying strong-brave-humble-vulnerable woman and respect the entire message in the movie. Read between the lines–stop making up lines that weren’t there. Learn from those who have survived from this horrible life. Go assist and write about all the men and women still searching and crying today looking for there children. Or help them find themselves. Great harm was done to all and still continues on this matter of children being stripped away from there blood families.

  • Dessie

    For a very balanced review and discussion piece on this film, it is recommended that readers go to Fr Brendan Hoban’s piece on

  • Nathan

    Presumably, the ongoing strategy for the Church is self preservation at whatever the cost. The film is based on real events. I think that is enough. The story is one of many. The Church, based on ignorance and dogma, has failed in these cases. The movie was extraordinary and compelling, the artistic licence was warranted. The point has been made.

  • KT

    Nick, Are you suggesting that the nuns did all they could to reunite the son and mother, both of whom WANTED to be reunited? Of course there are situations where a birth mother does not want to be found but this was clearly not the case. It is understandable what happened back in the 50′s when teenage pregnancy was shameful rather than a badge of honor as it seems to be now. In the context of those times it was unthinkable for a teenage mom to keep her baby, sad but true. But to think that in the 90′s mother and son each approached the nuns looking to be reunited and both were denied, it is cruel and incredibly sad. Sr Julie Rose should be ashamed of herself and if she is a true Catholic should issue a sincere apology to Philomena. Whether the final scene is fact or fiction changes nothing.

  • Anne

    Anybody Irish knows that this story communicates an important truth. The Catholic church did dreadful things in Ireland and was protected by the Irish state. I don’t know if Sr. Hildergard McNulty behaved exactly as it was depicted but many Irish nuns did. In 2002 a convent was sold in Dublin producing a nice nest egg for the church. The unmarked graves of anonymous women were found on the grounds. The church answered to no-one.

    I am confident that Pope Francis wants to know the truth and that he is committed to making the church a relevant and useful organization.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>