Chris Bolan’s documentary A Secret Love is a sweet tearjerker that explores the nearly 70-year relationship between ex-All American Girls Professional Baseball League player Terry Donahue and her loyal partner Pat Henschel.
Known as “a couple of really good friends” or “roommates” to their peers and families, Terry and Pat hid their romance to survive in a time when homosexuality was deemed as detrimental and threatening – concerns that still linger and intimidate same-sex couples to this day. But as they approach their elder years, Terry and Pat have decided to disclose their history to family and, now, to millions streaming Bolan’s film on Netflix. The production has access to oodles of old photos and home movies that, on the surface, portrays the friendly couple as most people saw them. Under Bolan’s direction and the wonderful editing of Bernadine Colish (Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict), these visuals not only divulge into the secluded connection that was once privately shared, but they’re also weaved together in a way that affirms how magical these memories are for these women.
For contextual reasons, A Secret Love acknowledges events that have influenced Pat and Terry’s relationship; such as close-minded opinions towards gay people and the current struggle the women have with their health. For the former, outsiders are interviewed to give perspective on this blight in history. The interviews are kept brief, but the bits give audiences a clear idea of how dangerous society was for homosexuals and builds on the uncertainly Pat and Terry still consider when they’re striving for acceptance.
The latter issues about they’re current living situations is when the film somewhat loses its grip. It’s a hardship in their lives that can’t be ignored, and the documentary observes them while they sort out their future. The focus branches out to be about the struggle Pat has with some of Terry’s family, and the apprehension she has towards their attitudes which, of course, creates a conflict when concerned family members want them to move into assisted living. These are very tense moments that flesh out additional emotional stakes, but they stray a little too far from the core of this documentary.
When A Secret Love returns to the top of its game, so will your happy tears and inevitable lump in your throat. The film finds a perfect way to end as the filmmakers circle back to the primary values of Pat and Terry – family strength, passionate love, and mutual decisions that define their relationship to their desires (which could include a late-but-deserving wedding).
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie