In the Oscar-nominated film "Philomena," Philomena Lee, played by actress Judi Dench, travels to Washington, D.C., to find her son, who was adopted away from her more than 50 years before.
Washington's role in the movie wasn't a real one, as Lee never traveled to the District with journalist Martin Sixsmith, as the film suggests. Instead, it was this week that the real Philomena Lee stepped into D.C., into politics and followed her late son's footsteps.
"Now you see, Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, they blazed the trail for us," Lee said, noting the names of "Philomena's" stars. "We're doing it now. Afterward."
The movie begins as Lee tells her daughter a secret she had kept for half a century: she had a child, Anthony, out of wedlock many years before. And because she was a single mother, living in an abbey in Ireland, she was forced to give the child up for adoption. While "Philomena" uses a bit of "artistic license," daughter Jane Libberton explained, "the most shocking things in the film are the true things," she told Whispers.
That Lee's son had ended up in America was true. That Michael Hess, as he was renamed, had lived in Washington and worked for the Republican National Committee, and the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses, was additionally true. That he was gay and died of AIDS, also factual.
And the most heartbreaking -- that he had come to Ireland three times in search of his mother, but was never given the information that she, in turn, was looking for him -- was also very, very true.
"He died actually thinking I'd abandoned him," Lee said. He was buried where he was born, at the Sean Ross Abbey. "He was there nine years before I even knew it."
Now, Lee's taking a political cue from her late son to make sure her story isn't one that's repeated. While in town, Lee met with a number of lawmakers including Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to talk adoption. (Hess had grown up in St. Louis.)
As the figurehead of the Philomena Project -- which hopes to connect Irish parents and victims of forced adoptions with their American children -- Lee hoped American lawmakers would pressure the Irish government to open adoption records.
"The American people are not really thrilled with Congress right now and I'm perfectly aware that it is very hard for me to cast stones when I live in a glass house," McCaskill said. "But, in this instance, there are people who have a hole that they need to fill."
McCaskill vowed to talk to her colleagues to figure out the best course of action: whether it be a resolution, a letter or a discussion when President Barack Obama's picks a new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
"[McCaskill] was so interested in what we were saying, she was really, really good," Lee said of her first American lobbying experience.
And, in another first -- though you wouldn't believe it if you've seen the movie -- Lee will see Washington's top tourist sites on Saturday.
"We're having tomorrow off, reliving the film," she smiled. "And we're going to see the Lincoln Memorial."