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Lawyer hasn’t seen ‘Spotlight’ — but objects to his portrayal

Eric MacLeish later taught at Plymouth (N.H.) State University.
Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe/File 2010
Eric MacLeish later taught at Plymouth (N.H.) State University.

The news has been nearly all good for “Spotlight,” director Tom McCarthy’s movie about the Boston Globe investigation that revealed systemic coverup and sexual abuse of children by priests in the Boston Archdiocese. The film, which opened in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles on Friday, is getting rave reviews and is considered a front-runner to win the Oscar for best picture. But not everyone thinks the movie gets the story right.

Boston attorney Eric MacLeish, who in the early 1990s represented hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by priests, objects to his portrayal in “Spotlight.” In a lengthy Facebook post, MacLeish, played by actor Billy Crudup in the movie, encourages people to see “Spotlight” but adds that “events involving my character are not only inaccurate but the opposite of what occurred.”

Curiously, MacLeish hasn’t seen the movie and on Sunday told Walter Robinson, former editor of the Globe’s Spotlight team, that he doesn’t plan to see it any time soon. In a text to the Globe on Monday, MacLeish seemed to soften his stance.

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“The movie is great. The reporters are even better. My character is inaccurately portrayed but the film is too important and too good to let this be a distraction,” he wrote.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Actor Billy Crudup (left), who plays Eric MacLeish in “Spotlight,” with Mark Ruffalo at a screening of the movie in Los Angeles earlier this month.
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Though he and other lawyers won sizable sums of money for their clients (and themselves) by settling cases with the Roman Catholic Church confidentially, MacLeish objects to the suggestion that he made a “cottage industry” of reaching “secret settlements” and was thereby complicit in the coverup. In his Facebook post,
MacLeish claims that confidentiality restrictions “made me ill” but they were an “absolute condition” of settlements. He says he encouraged the Globe to dig deeper into the problem of sexually abusive priests.

“I understand the need of Hollywood to dramatize stories and create undesirable characters, particularly if they happen to be lawyers,” he writes. “It’s unfortunate that the events in the movie involving me are exactly the opposite of what occurred, but I suppose it comes with the territory. Again, I want you to see the movie. It’s an important film.”

In a text to the Globe on Monday, McCarthy responded, “We’re very gratified that Eric MacLeish is recommending the movie. He’s a respected lawyer in Boston who was instrumental in the Spotlight team’s work. The film notes he was someone who tried early to alert the Globe to a large number of priests accused of abuse in Boston. It also notes that the settlements he arranged for clients were the best they could get under the law at the time. Still, whether the high number of private mediations served the larger public interest of holding the Church accountable is a subject we considered important to address. We look forward to him seeing the movie.”

In limited release, “Spotlight” did well at the box office, grossing one of the season’s best debuts, according to Deadline.com. In five theaters in Boston, New York, and LA, the film had multiple sellouts and grossed more than $302,000. It will be in 60 theaters in 17 markets Friday, and more on Nov. 20.

Names can be reached at names@globe.com. Follow Mark Shanahan on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.