A Secret Love

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
A Secret Love Movie Poster Image
Docu about women forced to hide relationship for 70 years.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 83 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Laws and views that were accepted decades ago were unjust. Lasting love is something to be celebrated and admired.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Terry and Pat had to keep their love secret from family and society for decades. Even when Terry bravely came out to her family when she was in her 90s, she was afraid they would disown her. Although the couple resisted giving up their house to move to assisted living, Terry and Pat both were generous enough to admit that the move turned out to be beneficial.

Violence

Terry suffers from Parkinson's disease and Pat falls ill as well, but they go through rehab and soldier on. One woman recalls being raised by a drunken, homophobic, cheating father. In the 1940s, in some cases if women wore fly-front pants they could be arrested for impersonating a man. A Florida detective on the Juvenile Morals Squad warns high school students that one out of three of them will turn out to be "queer," and the authorities will catch them and make their lives "a living hell." A newscaster from the 1960s announces that two thirds of Americans at that time looked at gays with "disgust, discomfort, and fear."

Sex

Two women talk about kissing. The film focuses on a gay world driven underground from the 1940s until anti-discrimination laws and federally-legalized marriage helped allow closeted people to come out.  

Language

Two instances of "f--k," and "queer," "screw," "hell," and "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know A Secret Love is the story of two women who met in 1947 and lived together, deeply in love, for 72 years. The documentary sets their devotion to each other against the backdrop of harassing and humiliating laws and social attitudes that required they "be very careful" for decades to avoid being outed, fired from their jobs, and disowned by their families. In their 90s, surrounded by friends and family, they legally marry, a tribute to their enduring love and a celebration of changing social attitudes. Family members step in to help as they age and undergo the problems that come with physical decline and illness. Infrequent language includes "f--k" and "damn." A Florida detective on the Juvenile Morals Squad warns high school students that one out of three of them will turn out to be "queer," and the authorities will catch them and make their lives "a living hell."  A newscaster from the 1960s announces that two thirds of Americans at that time looked at gays with "disgust, discomfort, and fear." Two women talk about kissing. Adults drink alcohol.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byLisa Ebrom February 11, 2021

Heartwarming

Beautiful love story.
Adult Written byladysybil July 21, 2020

I CRIED

This documentary film is a must-watch! It is such an incredible story of two strong women who were forced to hide their love from the world for 65+ years! Thi... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bylacking_kermitment May 10, 2020

What's the story?

Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue, a professional baseball player, fell in love in 1947 and, as depicted in A SECRET LOVE, the two shared their lives for the next 72 years. During most of those years they lived without letting family or the world know they were a couple. Director Chris Bolan shares family photos and home movies of his two great aunts, as well as footage of Terry playing in the All-American Girls Baseball League (made famous by the film A League of Their Own). The pair recall how important it was to "be careful," to never let their secret spill lest they be arrested for indecency. They display a touching devotion to each other and wrestle with illness and aging as family members try to move them to safer quarters. They finally wed, after around 70 years as a couple, surrounded by family and friends.

Is it any good?

Director Chris Bolan spent seven years making this film, and it was worth every minute of his time. Bolan lovingly trains the camera on his great aunts Terry and Pat, two strong, independent women who managed to nurture their love under wraps in the face of an inhospitable and judgmental society. Bolan weaves in the hazards they faced in the 1940s, '50s, '60s, and later, using photographs and home movies. He interviews devoted family members who, though shocked, instantly accepted the decades-late announcement that Terry and Pat had lived as a couple for years. One niece accepts the gay announcement but wishes they'd get married immediately to avoid "living in sin," demonstrating how views, even among the religious, have evolved over the years.

A Secret Love also examines the utter familiarity of their plight as they age. Loving family members try to get them help, try to help them move to more manageable quarters, and those actions are met with resistance. Family love and support are strong, and there's no sense that it's put on for the cameras. The movie drips of love going in all directions, and that fact makes this feel like an instructional video on how to be in the world. Someone observes to Terry that she broke the rules her whole life, and she replies, "Yes. That's why I'm happy."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why the LGBTQ community has faced discrimination over the years. How and why have attitudes changed? What impact do movies like A Secret Life have?

  • What aspects of Terry's and Pat's life together show the universality of the issues they face?

  • What are some ways we as a society make inclusiveness a way of life?

Movie details

  • On DVD or streaming: April 29, 2020
  • Director: Chris Bolan
  • Studio: Netflix
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Run time: 83 minutes
  • MPAA rating: NR
  • Last updated: July 9, 2020

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