Pinky’s Review:

The Secret Scripture is based on the novel of the same name and is about a girl named Rose (played by Rooney Mara) and her young life in which she has a few suitable men interested in her. The film chronicles her love life and the turmoil that follows with it. It also details her mental health problems and her hospitalization which changes her life in unimaginable ways. The film follows an older Rose (Vanessa Redgrave) and is told through her written diary entries.
Roseanne McNulty must vacate the soon-to-be demolished mental institution in Roscommon, Ireland that she’s called home for over 50 years. The hospital’s psychiatrist, Dr. William Grene, is called in to assess her condition. He finds himself intrigued by Roseanne’s seemingly inscrutable rituals and tics, and her fierce attachment to her Bible, which she has over the decades transformed into a palimpsest of scripture, drawings, and cryptic diary entries. As Grene delves deeper into Roseanne’s past, we see her as a young woman, whose charisma proves seductive. We learn that she moved to Sligo to work in her aunt’s café, fell in love with a dashing fighter pilot), and that a local priest fell tragically in love with her…

Which Add-On, did I watch this Movie in? In Kirks Build, I watched this Movie in The Pyramid Movie section.


Director: Jim Sheridan; Starring: Rooney Mara, Vanessa Redgrave, Theo James, Eric Bana, Jack Reynor. 12A cert, 108 mins.

She (Rooney Mara) waits tables at the temperance hotel, he (Jack Reynor) works behind the counter at the tobacco and spirit merchants: some things, you might reasonably surmise, just aren’t meant to be. Those are two points of the eternal triangle which sits at the achy-breaky heart of Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture, a variously lukewarm and lugubrious melodrama adapted from a 2008 novel by Sebastian Barry.

In it, an elderly and by all accounts mentally disturbed woman, Rose (Vanessa Redgrave), relays from her asylum bed the story of a life cruelly fractured by outside forces: namely triangle point number three, the maliciously handsome Catholic priest (Theo James) from the rural Irish village in which she made her home during World War Two.

Rose’s secular confessor in this task is Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana), the man responsible for her impending recommittal. But it’s suggested early on that by getting to the bottom of Rose’s unhappy youth, Dr. Grene will unlock some unspeakable secret that will somehow vindicate her.

It’s a widely believed local myth that Rose murdered her newborn baby on the beach then went insane: to the community at large she’s a bogeywoman, to the asylum staff she’s variously an amusement and an inconvenience. (They scoff at her on CCTV and unceremoniously ditch her belongings in a skip.)

The ‘secret scripture’ of the title is made up of the shards of memories Rose has scrawled in the margins, and in some cases over the printed text itself, of a vigorously thumbed Bible – her own testament which, until the arrival of Dr. Grene, no-one has taken seriously.

The film flits between present-day Rose’s recollections – narrated by Redgrave with a sock-it-to-the-back-of-the- auditorium vigour that feels like overkill in light of the story’s unflagging moroseness – and flashbacks to her past, in which we see for ourselves how the young Rose (Mara) transforms from a comely protestant girl into a reputed child-killer and psychiatric patient.

Vanessa Redgrave in The Secret Scripture
Vanessa Redgrave in The Secret Scripture

The opening act is enticing and handsomely staged, with images that play up the lead actress’s enigmatic qualities that made her so endlessly watchable in films as diverse as Side Effects, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Carol. We get Mara looking pensive on a bus, Mara smiling in front of loaves of bread, and so on.

And there’s an enjoyably spiky first encounter with Father Gaunt (James) on a wind-whipped beach, where she asks him what his job is: “I hear people’s problems for a living,” comes the reply. “A psychologist?” she guesses. Bluntly: “No.” There’s a mutual attraction, but of a type that can obviously never be consummated.

Casting James, who played First Heartthrob in the Divergent young-adult franchise, looks at first like a smart move – his swashbuckling looks neatly counter the part’s dyed-in creepiness – as does bringing in Reynor as Michael McNulty, the local hunk Rose does fall for. Alas, neither actor has the slightest spark of chemistry with Mara, and the energy seems to ebb from all three performances in minutes.

Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor 
Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor 

All that’s left is evil priest versus hard-done-by woman and lantern-jawed nice guy, and Gaunt’s scheming against the pair unfolds in a particular register of tinkling misery that countless better films with thematic and structural connections to this one – Joe Wright’s Atonement, Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters, Stephen Frears’ Philomena – did their damnedest to avoid.

The chronic overuse of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata doesn’t help, nor does a late-breaking twist which Sheridan and Johnny Ferguson’s screenplay handles much in the same way a toddler would a squeaky hammer.

It makes sense that Sheridan would want to make this film. After an early run of work set in the director’s native Ireland, including three tremendous collaborations with Daniel Day-Lewis – My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and The Boxer – the immigrant drama In America took him to the States in 2003, where he’s since foundered in projects as wide-rangingly awful as Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and Dream House. The Secret Scripture returns him to the land of his birth, but his mojo remains MIA.

Have you seen this Movie? If so, we would love to hear your view of it.



Pinky Pat 🙂

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