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The Secret Scripture

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Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara This Irish film based on an acclaimed novel by Sebastian Barry and directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father) has its moments but doesn’t gel as well as it should considering the story and the talented cast.

Vanessa Redgrave plays a very elderly Roseanne McNulty who has lived in a mental institution for over 50 years and is still tormented by the trials of her past. She is brought to the attention of the hospital’s psychiatrist, Dr. William Grene, (played very well by Eric Bana).

The ‘secret scripture’ refers to Roseanne’s Bible, where in the margins and black pages she recounts the events that led to her being hospitalised in a mental institution, admitted under accusations of both infanticide and nymphomania. Convinced the son she had snatched away from her is still alive, the older Rose argues her case.

Together with a nurse, played by Susan Lynch, they use the scripture along with information they can occasionally gather from a coherent Roseanne, to discover what truly happened to Roseanne and how she was swept up in the social and religious movements earlier in the 20th century especially the time before and during the Second World War. In that era, around 1942, we meet a younger Roseanne played by Rooney Mara and the story bounces back and forth between Rose’s conversations with her psychiatrist as an elderly woman, and Rose as a young lady. There is also the presence of Theo James’s dark, brooding priest, whose actions display a desire to not only be a man of the cloth, but to be a man. The film offers an examination of how the church and state’s control of sexuality tainted and destroyed the lives of many women during that period after the war. In the end the movie does have a twist of another kind, a big reveal so silly, and played with too much sentiment that it almost turns the film into a daytime soap opera. A pity really, as the acting carries the film above being average.