THE SECRET SCRIPTURE (Ireland/12A/108mins)
Directed by Jim Sheridan. Starring Rooney Mara, Jack Reynor, Theo James, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana.
THE PLOT: In the middle of World War II, Irish woman Rose (Rooney Mara) secretly marries an Irish fighter pilot working for the RAF. When he is chased away from their home by Irish Republicans, Rose learns she is pregnant, and spends the next 40 years in an institution; it is only when the facility is being closed and Rose has to be reassessed, that the true story of her tragic life comes to light.
THE VERDICT: Based on the novel of the same name by Sebastian Barry, ‘The Secret Scripture’ is directed by Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan and boasts an impressive cast including Jack Reynor, Aidan Turner, Pauline McLynn, Susan Lynch, Theo James, Eric Bana, Vanessa Redgrave, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. Obviously inspired by the waves of scandal about the Catholic Church that continue to shock Ireland, ‘The Secret Scripture’ feels a little like an exploitative version of ‘The Notebook’.
Rooney Mara leads the cast as Rose – with Vanessa Redgrave playing the older version of the character – and Mara is charming enough, does well with the accent, but it is difficult to see just why all the men in this small Sligo town are falling all over her, since her sex appeal is virtually non-existent. That said, Mara does well enough with the role and it is good to see her smile from time to time. Vanessa Redgrave handles the older version of the character, a broken woman who still believes her truth, even after years of heartbreak and electroshock therapy, with grace and dignity. Redgrave is a powerhouse actress, and her performance brings gravitas and strength to the film. Jack Reynor and Aidan Turner have smaller roles, Susan Lynch makes her nursing character gentle and caring, and Eric Bana makes Dr Greene a passionate and engaged man.
Jim Sheridan and Johnny Ferguson’s screenplay is based on the novel by Sebastian Barry, and often feels strained and strange. The romantic elements at the start of the film work fine, but there are some plot points that feel more than a little convenient – although they may work on page better than they do on the screen – and there is a feel that the later half of the film is a little exploitative of real suffering undergone by Irish people. That said, the feeling that the Catholic Church in Ireland had a lot to answer for in terms of cruelty and suffering is strong throughout the film, and this is a message that Irish people should never forget.
As director Jim Sheridan seems as though he is trying to make a World War II romantic drama, so then the elements of Church abuse do not always sit well with the feel of the rest of the film. Little explanation is given for many of the characters’ motivations, and although it is clear who the good and the bad guys are, Ireland in the 1940s was more complicated than the film makes it appear. The cinematography makes the country look beautiful, but there are visual and scripted clichés that drag the film down.
In all, ‘The Secret Scripture’ is just about kept afloat by Vanessa Redgrave and the beautiful cinematography, but there are too many conveniences and clichés in the script for the story to ring true, and the whole thing just ends up feeling a little emotionless and trite.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Jim Sheridan’s new film The Secret Scripture finally arrives on these shores, having being met with a decidedly muted response at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It’s not hard to see the faults in this earnest but muddled melodrama.

    Rose (Vanessa Redgrave) is an elderly lady who has been living in a mental hospital in Ireland for the last 40 years. With the hospital closing, she’s the last resident to leave. However, she has no plans to leave. The place holds particular memories for her. Memories that the newly-arrived Dr Grene (Eric Bana) hopes to bring to the surface, to try to finally resolve the mystery surrounding this lady and her apparent murder of her newborn baby when she was a young woman. The story then occasionally flashes back to when young Rose (Rooney Mara) flees Belfast for the neutral south. She settles in a small village, working in her mother’s cafe. She catches the eye of pilot Michael (Jack Reynor), as well as the suitably named priest Father Gaunt (Theo James). The latter becomes besotted with her and is driven to acts of jealousy and revenge, which will ultimately destroy her life…

    Based on the award-winning book by Sebastian Barry and adapted by Sheridan and Johnny Ferguson, this is a fictional story but it’s inspired by a story that Barry’s mother told him about a relative. If you’re averse to stories about ancient (i.e. 20th Century), repressive Ireland then it’s probably best to avoid this film. There’s no doubting the sincerity of the film in its depiction of a woman coming to terms with her tragic past. There’s a deeply personal journey going on here inside Rose’s old and young mind, but this is yet another story about a very different, Church-dominated Ireland from not so long ago. This reviewer had hoped that the national cinema had moved past this to tell more immediate and modern films. So, we’re back to gossipy villagers, cruel Magdalene nuns and unsympathetic doctors (apart from Dr Grene) who label Rose’s simple and unconditional love for Michael as ‘nymphomania’. Quite.

    This film wants to have the strength and class of Philomena, but ends up being mis-judged. The brief transition of Rose from a happy young woman to a screaming, histrionic mess to a strong-willed old lady living very much in her mind is awkwardly handled by Sheridan. He seems unsure of just how to portray this transition, leaving this reviewer sympathetic towards Rose but agonisingly just out of reach. No blame should rest on the shoulders of Redgrave and Mara, who do solid work here. Bana and Susan Lynch provide strong support, though James is miscast as a decidedly unholy priest who puts himself first before God. Sheridan’s direction is lacking his usual quality touch. As the credits roll, it’s clear that there’s a good film in here somewhere. It’s also clear that it’s been lost in the adaptation and the editing room. **

  • emerb

    “The Secret Scripture” is Jim Sheridan’s latest drama and it is centred on a painful time in Irish history when there is much political upheaval. It was adapted from the Sebastian Barry novel of the same name and gives us a glimpse into the cruel injustices imposed by a regressive Church on women in particular during a more conservative, restrictive era. I liked that the film is predominantly a romantic drama which boasts an impressive cast of both established and promising actors. Sebastian Barry’s 2008 source novel was well-received and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize but Sheridan and the late screenwriter Johnny Ferguson did make a significant number of changes in order to bring the
    story to the big screen. It interweaves two time periods (1942 and then 50 years later) and is essentially based on the tragic life of a woman wronged by the complicity of church and state.

    The film introduces us to Roseanne McNulty – an Irish woman who has spent most of her life in a mental institution. She is now approaching her 100th birthday (played here by Vanessa Regrave) and is obliged to vacate the premises so that it can be transformed into a hotel and spa. Rose doesn’t want to leave because she’s afraid she’ll lose the Bible where she’s scrawled the story of her life via writings, drawings and cherished mementoes – her “secret scripture” is her sort
    of memoir. She’s also certain that someday she’ll be rescued by her son. She has been accused of murdering this son as a baby but in moments of lucidity, she still proclaims her innocence. When a psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Grene (Eric Bana), is hastily called in to assess her condition by the Archdiocese of Sligo, she relives the circumstances that led her there and he listens attentively to her recollections. The film is cleverly structured using a framing device that sees Gene interview the elderly Rose and this allows us to move back and forth in time.

    The arrival of the feisty young Rose (Rooney Mara) in a small village in wartime 1940s Ireland causes quite a stir, especially when numerous men seem to be attracted and mystified by her. Among them is a persistent, judgmental, unforgiving priest, Father Gaunt (Theo James) who develops strong feelings for her but seems unable to accept that she has no interest in him. Defying authority, she rejects the countless suitors, finds herself the subject of gossip and the cause of violent fights among the local men, especially once she starts sneaking off with dashing RAF pilot Michael (Jack Reynor). After she inadvertently sparks a fist fight at a local dance, Rose is exiled to her family’s country cottage. In a bizarre coincidence (there are a few!), Michael accidentally crash-lands in the woods beside her house and Rose rescues him. She then decides to hide him from the IRA gang who are convinced he is an enemy. Sure enough, a romance develops between the pair and this is quickly followed by marriage.Their happiness is short lived however and the lovers are violently punished for their “crime”. What follows is a tragic series of events which begins
    with patriarchy conspiring to lock Rose up in an asylum.

    Combining wartime old-fashioned weepie romance with mystery and intrigue, this film was right down my alley. Rooney Mara is convincing as the wild raven-haired beauty and despite suffering from dementia, Redgrave adds a touch of class to her scenes while Bana adds an air of authority to his role. The film is magnificent to look at – the picturesque locations, the rugged charm of the countryside and the long stretches of beaches and craggy caves. It is undeniably a beautifully
    directed, well-crafted, superbly acted and touching drama and although some parts of the plot stretch credulity to the limit, I would be happy to recommend this film.