Magazine article Screen International

The Secret Scripture': Toronto Review

Magazine article Screen International

The Secret Scripture': Toronto Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Jim Sheridan. Ireland, 2016, 108 mins

Jim Sheridan's screen version of Sebastian Barry's 2008 novel The Secret Scripture is undeniably a class act. It is an elegantly crafted, expertly acted old-fashioned weepie that manages to sell a whopper of a plot that would bring a blush to the cheeks of Nicholas Sparks.

The tragic life of an inconvenient woman wronged by the complicity of church and state is confidently pitched at incurable romantics. There are affinities with the sense of injustice that fuelled Philomena and The Magdalene Sisters but Sheridan chooses to emphasise the personal heartbreak rather than the wider political issues. The result could well prove too tasteful and crassly melodramatic for some but it has sturdy commercial prospects as a prestige item with potential awards season support for Vanessa Redgrave.

Sheridan and the late screenwriter Johnny Ferguson have made a significant number of changes to Barry's novel that smooth away the raw emotions and streamline the story into something less epic and more conventional. In the novel, Roseanne McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave) is nearing her 100th birthday and her life is a reflection of the political upheavals in the life of Ireland. In the film, Roseanne has spent decades in a mental institution that she is now obliged to vacate. The building is to be transformed into a hotel and spa. Dr Grene (Eric Bana) is assigned to assess her and determine her future.

With her long white hair, haunted milky blue eyes and distracted, fearful manner, Redgrave provides a vivid picture of a lost soul, locked in the past, condemned to "live in her own little purgatory". Her performance goes a long way to involving us in Rose's story.

Dr Grene's curiosity about why Rose was first committed to the asylum in 1942 and remained there is further piqued by the discovery of a Bible filled with her writing, drawings and cherished mementoes. Her "secret scripture" is a form of memoir.

The film then glides back to the wartime years as Rose (now played by Rooney Mara) arrives in the South of Ireland to work at her aunt's Temperance Hotel. Bold enough to look a man in the eye and feisty enough to reject countless suitors, Rose defies local IRA forces to fall in love with dashing RAF pilot Michael (Jack Reynor). …

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