A Secret Love, released by Netflix, tells the true story of how two Canadian women named Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel kept their relationship a secret from the public for 72 years.
The documentary was directed by Donahue’s great-nephew, Chris Bolan, and premiered in February 2020 at the South by South West film festival. It’s one of a number of projects to debut on the streaming service by producer and writer Ryan Murphy.
“In a time where we are becoming increasingly disconnected from one another, I feel that stories such as Pat and Terry’s have never been more important,” Bolan said in an interview at the festival.
Meeting in 1947, Donahue was a 22-year-old and playing baseball for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which inspired the 1992 film A League of Their Own. After meeting Donahue, an 18-year-old Henschel traveled with her baseball team to watch her play.
Both women never had a previous relationship with other women before meeting each other. Neither of them identified as lesbian as well, due to the intensity of homophobia at the time.
The pair became inseparable and described in their interviews how they’d do everything together.
In my personal favorite part of the film; Donahue recounted the time when after the pair finished ice skating one day, Henschel gave her a letter and told her not to open it until she got home. Once she was home, she opened the letter and it consisted of Henschel confessing her love for her and mentioning how she hoped Donahue felt the same way.
Donahue reciprocated the feeling and the pair officially became a couple the next day. Shortly after, they moved to Chicago where they lived together for several decades.
Much of the film documented how the pair would disguise their true relationship by claiming to be either good friends or cousins.
“People thought we were just good friends, which we were…very good friends,” says Henschel in the film.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film was how the couple didn’t even come out to their closest friends and family until they were in their eighties.
However, the couple’s nieces and nephews said in their interviews how, as children, they loved both women and never gave any thought to what their relation to each other was. This was a great and important addition to the film, as it combatted any negative stigma around children being raised with gay relatives.
The film also avoided showing any harsh or explicit material that could be potentially triggering to any LGBTQ+ viewers. Besides telling the story of how the couple met, the film mainly focused on the daily things Donahue and Henschel do in their lives with the new challenges they’re facing with aging.
The film consists of a number of interviews with the couple as family and friends talked to them about their relationship. Bolan integrated a variety of old and new videos and pictures of the pair while they narrated through the entire duration of the film.
Being someone with not the best attention span for documentaries, Bolan’s method of directing the film made it easy and very interesting to watch.
No matter what your thoughts are on documentaries, A Secret Love provides an entertaining and wholesome watching experience for all viewers. Donahue and Henschel’s love story is one for the ages and I look forward to similar true stories emerging in the future.
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