Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue, the subjects of A Secret Love. Picture: Netflix via AP
Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue, the subjects of A Secret Love. Picture: Netflix via AP

‘Perfect’ Netflix doco has viewers sobbing

A Secret Love, Netflix's new "lesbian documentary," is perfect for several reasons.

It tells the story of two women, Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, who were secretly together for nearly seven decades before they came out to their friends and family as gay.

The film - from director Chris Bolan in his feature debut, and produced by Ryan Murphy as part of his deal with Netflix - is a history lesson, a love story and a family drama all wrapped up into an 82-minute documentary. And it is beautiful.

It’s a love story spanning 70 years.
It’s a love story spanning 70 years.

 

Terry and Pat first met in 1947 when Terry was playing for the Peoria Red Wings female baseball team. Pat was 18 and Terry was 22.

Being a lesbian couple in 1947 was no joke. Women suspected of being gay would be arrested for "impersonating a man" if they were wearing men's clothing. Newspapers would publish names of gay and lesbian men and women caught in gay bars, causing them to lose their jobs. You can understand why Terry and Pat told some people they were cousins, and others that they were just close friends.

The pair had to conduct their relationship in secret.
The pair had to conduct their relationship in secret.

 

Watching Donahue and Henschel interact in the present day is equally as enthralling as learning about their history.

Both of their health is declining - especially Terry, who has Parkinson's disease - and Terry's doting niece Diana wants them to move back closer to Terry's family, or at least in an assisted living home where they can have some care. Pat doesn't want to do it.

The tension between Pat and Diana simmers, and eventually bubbles over. They both love Terry. They just don't agree on what's best for her.

Pat and Terry’s decades-long love story has left viewers profoundly moved.
Pat and Terry’s decades-long love story has left viewers profoundly moved.

 

I can't remember exactly when I started crying while watching A Secret Love. It might have been when Terry, now in her late 80s, started tearing up remembering her dad, who she felt knew and accepted her for who she was, even though she never came out to him. It might have been when I saw an 80-something Terry wearing a "There's No Crying in Baseball" sweatshirt. It might have been when Pat explained they ripped the signatures off their love letters, so no one would know who they were from if found. Or it might have been when, after Pat recalls the bad fortune of her three boyfriends before Terry, Terry turned to Pat and said, "Patty, you were meant for me."

Those who've watched it so far have a lot of feelings about what they've seen:


Lest you think it was all a sobfest, I also laughed a lot, too - like when both Terry and Pat burst out laughing as they recalled the time Pat's then-boyfriend had to stay in a hotel when Pat visited Terry while she was on the road. Pat, of course, roomed with Terry.

Terry Donahue died on March 14, 2019. The film doesn't go into it, because that's not really the story here. Ultimately, it's a love story. These two women spent their entire lives hiding their love, claiming to be cousins or just close friends. And yet, they were together. They were happy.

Near the end of the film, someone asks Donahue, "You kind of broke the rules your whole life, haven't you?"

"Yes, I have," Donahue responds. "That's why I'm happy."

That sound you hear? That's me, ugly sobbing at this gorgeous, beautiful love story.

 

This story originally appeared on Decider and is republished here with permission

 

Originally published as 'Perfect' Netflix doco has viewers sobbing


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