A SECRET LOVE
(director/writer: Chris Bolan; screenwriters: Alex L. Fogel/Brendamn Mason; cinematographer: Stephen Kazmierski; editor: Bernadine Colish; music: Duncan Thum; cast: Terry Donahue, Diana Bolan, Pat Henschel; Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Alexa L. Fogel, Brendan Mason, Ryan Murphy; Netflix; 2020)
“Fascinating bittersweet love story documentary on a lesbian relationship.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Chris Bolan, in his directorial debut, helms this fascinating bittersweet love story documentary on a lesbian relationship between the Canadian born Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel that was kept closeted for some seven decades because of social norms. The couple, both in their 90s, have been together for some seventy years after meeting in Chicago in the 1950s.
Terry played in the women’s professional baseball league. Her baseball exploits inspired the Penny Marshall movie A League Of Their Own (1992).
This mainstream documentary follows the couple from the first time they met, to their coming out to their conservative families, and to their grappling in their later years with whether or not to get married. It’s interesting to note that the filmmaker Bolan is one of Donahue’s great-nephews, and his Canada-based family takes part inthe film.
During the opening credits we hear in the background Doris Day’s prescient coming out of the closet Oscar-winning hit song “Secret Love,” that pays its respect to gay romances (honoring her closeted co-star and friend Rock Hudson). The lyrics that reflect the couple’s affair go like this: “At last my heart’s an open door/And my secret love’s no secret anymore.”
The couple resided in Chicago so Donahue can play in the All-American Girls Baseball League, and also to get away from her suspicious conservative family.
The couple’s self-contained domestic bliss as lifetime roommates becomes untenable as the aging Donahue has to deal with an increasingly worsening Parkinson’s disease. That left the door open for both to return to their Canadian families to be cared for by them and the opportunity to at last come out of the closet. The film doesn’t dwell in the past, but is more interested in showing us what they’re like now.
Terry and Pat represent a vast number of gay couples that had to deal with similar discrimination issues and were forced into the closet because being gay could be harmful in a prejudiced society. They openly share with us their life story and what it means to be gay in a hostile place that couldn’t accept their kind of people.
It’s an LGBTQ rights film, one that couldn’t have better subjects and have been done in a more professional loving way.
REVIEWED ON 4/30/2020 GRADE: B+