A Secret Love

 

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A film that triumphantly shows us a love no longer secret.

 
Secret Love, A
   

Chris Bolan is an actor who has turned director to make this documentary, a work inspired by an event in his own family. His great-aunt was a noted member of the All-American Girls Baseball League, Terry Donahue. Chris had long been aware that Terry had for years shared accommodation with Pat Herschel but it was only in 2009 that she chose to disclose to him that the two of them were lovers, a couple who had met in 1947 and had been at the centre of each other's lives ever since.

 

Terry had always been much loved in the family and this belated acknowledgment was welcomed and would lead to the couple marrying in 2015. That occasion is one of the highlights of A Secret Love which was filmed by Chris Bolan over the period between 2013 and 2017 and which also utilises home movies as well as old footage generally available. In this way the film looks back to the early history and family backgrounds of Terry and Pat while also incorporating social comments from author Yvonne Zipter, activist Marge Summit and publisher Tracy Baim which serve to show how unsurprising it was that so many lesbians would choose to be secret about their sexuality in the 1950s and thereafter.

 

While the biographical elements are interesting, it cannot be stressed too strongly that it is the scenes featuring the couple in old age that lie at the heart of the film's appeal. What we see here is a shared existence at the deepest level and consequently an incontestable assertion of the absolute validity of lesbian love. It must surely have been to honour this that Chris Bolan felt the need to make a film portrait of Terry and Pat and he has indeed succeeded in his aim while also bringing out the contrasted characters of the two women. If this was a venture that might have succumbed to a tone that was so sweet as to become saccharine, that possibility has certainly been avoided. However, when the film enters into more painful territory one sometimes feels that events are themselves taking over the screen rather than Bolan exercising a controlling hand. This applies for example, to the tensions that arise because Terry's niece Diana Bolan looks on her like a mother with the result that the emotional attachment is so strong that she appears jealous of Pat's love for Terry and consequently speaks critically of her. Another downside but one that fits more naturally into the material is the evidence of aging: Terry, three or four years older than Pat and born in 1925, becomes a victim of Parkinson's Disease. This leads to the family wanting her to leave Chicago for Edmonton, a move to which Pat is opposed, perhaps selfishly. These aspects can lead to uncomfortable moments that seem at odds with the general tenor of the film but they add to its honesty. Ultimately nothing can overshadow the devotion which kept Terry and Pat together for over seventy years and this film is a moving testimony to that.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Terry Donahue, Pat Herschel, Diana Bolan, Kim Donahue, Tammy Donahue, Jack Xagas, John Byrd, Yvonne Zipter, Marge Summit, Tracy Baim, Jeff Samburg.

 

Dir Chris Bolan, Pro Ryan Murphy, Alexa L. Fogel and Brendan Mason, Screenplay Chris Bolan, Alexa L. Fogel and Brendan Mason, Ph Stephen Kazmierski, Ed Bernardine Colish, Music Duncan Thum.

 

Beech Hill Films/Blumhouse Productions-Netflix.
81 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 29 April 2020. Available on Netflix. Cert. 12.