The order of nuns portrayed in the newly-released film Philomena, about an Irish woman seeking to be reunited with her adopted son, has accused the makers of falsely creating a scene that showed one of their sisters in a profoundly negative light.
Philomena - based on the book by journalist and former New Labour spin doctor Martin Sixsmith - tells the story of Philomena Lee and Mr Sixsmith's search for her son Anthony. It stars Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Mr Coogan also helped produce the film and write the screenplay.
Philomena had become pregnant as a teenager and was sent to a home for unmarried mothers run by Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Roscrea, County Tipperary. During that time her son was put up for adoption to parents in the United States.
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.
In the final scene one of the nuns, Sr Hildegard McNulty, is confronted by Mr Sixsmith for allegedly obstructing Philomena's attempts to find her son. Sr Hildegard then heartlessly judges Philomena as giving in to her "carnal" desires.
Sr Julie Rose, assistant congregational leader in the order, has told The Tablet that the film company wrote to the order to say this meeting - not in the book - was being added on the grounds of "dramatic licence." She added the film "does not tell the whole truth and in many ways is very misleading."
Furthermore, the order asked for a copy of the script of the film and for a delay in its release so that they could respond, but their requests were unsuccessful.
Sr Julie said: "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."
Sr Julie explained that, contrary to the film's portayal, Sr Hildegarde was instrumental in reuniting many mothers with their children.
Sr Hildegarde died in 1995, meaning a meeting between her and Mr Sixsmith was impossible as he did not start working on his book until 2004.
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.
Mr Coogan is a supporter of press regulation, and has said he was "forced to fight for the truth" on behalf of those affected by phone hacking.
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."
Above: Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan as Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith. Photo © Pathe/Alex Bailey