Netflix’s newest documentary, follows two women, Pat Henschel and All American Girls Baseball League player Terry Donahue, who fell in love in 1947 and began a 65-year journey of love and overcoming prejudice. Directed by Chris Bolan, who is Donahue’s great-nephew and co-written with Alexa L. Fogel and Brendan Mason.
For almost seven decades, Terry and Pat kept their relationship a secret, afraid to tell the truth and lose their family, so they let them believe that they simply lived together because of safety and economical concerns. They became a part of each other’s families and their friendship was never questioned, it wasn’t until 2019 and same sex marriage was legal that they decided they needed to come out, it wasn’t a perfectly smooth revelation but it was mostly accepted by all.
Terry was one of the many Canadian players that made it into the AAGBL, anyone who’s seen A League of Their Own will be familiar with its relatively brief but iconic run from 1943 to 1954. A group of independent, strong determined women, looking for a larger purpose through their love of baseball and as fascinating as the league and its players are, it only plays a minor part in this story. The real heart of it explores how they built their life together after that fateful meeting in ’47 and how in their elderly years they have to adapt to the challenges it throws at them.
That’s possibly the most hard hitting thing about the story, it isn’t the secret that they held for so long or coming out to their family, it’s watching them struggle against the problems their advanced age brings, especially after Terry is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Watching them stubbornly fight to keep their lives as they are, to stay in the house that has given them over two decades of happiness is heart-breaking, you don’t want to see them leave but at the same time, they’re passing the point where it’s logical or even safe to stay. The conflict with not only each other but family members to make the move is difficult to watch, everyone only wants what’s best for them but they want to be able to make the decision for themselves, in their own time. That hardship is balanced well with learning about how they came to be together and the life they shared, it’s a rich life, filled with friends, travel and a dedicated, unwavering love, it’s a story that brings hope in a time where it’s sincerely needed.
There are also some more surprising elements in store, Pat’s unfortunate history with fiancés and the incredibly touching letters and poetry that she used to write for Terry, as well as the slight tension that still exists between Pat and Terry’s family despite years of being loyally by her side. At its core, it’s a story about two incredible women, strong, independent and fiercely in love which is wonderful to watch, and makes you wonder just how many couples there are out there who went through a similar experience. The element that makes it even more satisfying to watch, while heart-breaking, is that it feels so utterly real and when you take into account that the filmmaker is related to the couple, its style makes a lot of sense; how it draws you in to almost being another one of the family.
If you go into this film, expecting only a tale of coming out after sixty plus years, you’re going to get a lot more than you bargained for. While they do tell the extraordinary story of their secret life together, it’s also as universal and humble as they come; the story of how we handle the challenges of growing old and taking care of one another. A Secret Love is an earnest, modest and enchanting story, their love is something that any person would be lucky to have and the dedication to each other over the years is inspiring to watch. Get ready to shed plenty of tears and have your heart-broken then put back together again repeatedly, but in the end it’s a story of resilience and hope.