Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel spent more than 60 years pretending they were cousins. Or incredibly close friends. Or that they lived together in Chicago after emigrating from Canada for safety's sake. But after decades upon decades of their secret relationship, we join them in the time after they've finally announced to the world they're queer, most definitely here—everyone was already pretty much used to it.
Writer/actor Chris Bolan turns documentarian for the story of Donahue and Henschel's relationship, one that weathered everything from hateful family members, unfettered homophobia and government raids on queer nightclubs that stretches across borders and as embarrassingly far back as far as the eye can see.
On the one hand, this makes A Secret Love feel triumphant—from the bravery of its subjects to the quick glimpses of those close to them who also lived in secret for more years than not. Their family, on the other hand—mostly Donahue's as it's explained nearly everyone who got close to Henschel died—is fraught with slightly more peril: Henschel's doting niece, who struggles with Henschel's secretive nature, tries to get the couple into an assisted living facility takes up the most screen time, but others with strong feelings about how people should live pop up now and then as well.
Sadly, the most interesting elements, such as how both Donahue and Henschel played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (on which 1992's A League of their Own was based), are mentioned all too briefly before making way for family "drama" that feels anything but uncommon. How many elderly folks around fight against being homed in a day? How many tearful relatives make speeches about how they're only trying to do what's best?
Elsewhere, the filmmakers have access to a shocking amount of film and photographic evidence of Donahue and Henschel's lives together. Truly, they documented their lives with enough regularity for a few riveting sequences, but around the billionth time we hear someone utter "we had to be very careful," we start to long for more. Fact is, though nobody is excusing homophobia, these women did some amazing things and, other than the looming threat if being found out, built a life together. That's wonderful if not riveting stuff. Their eventual marriage is pretty great stuff, though.
+Love conquers all; archival footage and photos
-Glosses over the best bits; many boring scenes
A Secret Love
Directed by Bolan
With Donahue and Henschel
Netflix, TV-MA, 81 min.