The Secret Scripture
by Toby Woollaston
In this Irish production, director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot), has cobbled together a curious mix of romance and intrigue in an adaptation from Sebastian Barry’s book of the same name. A Secret Scripture leaps out of the gates with a very promising start and from the outset appears to have everything going for it; romance, engaging characters, an alluring mystery, and intriguing themes, but unfortunately, like a soufflé with one too many kids running through the kitchen, the middle can’t sustain the weight of its mixture.
Dusting off her shoes from a very similar role in Atonement, Vanessa Redgrave plays an elderly Rose McNulty recounting her wartime story. Now living in a mental institution, Rose refuses to vacate the soon-to-be-demolished hospital. Psychiatrist, Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana), is called in to assess her condition and learns about her younger years and the tragic account of her baby’s departure. Rooney Mara plays the younger Rose in a role that is well cast and suits her wistful looks. Secrets are revealed in her rudimentary memoir that is scrawled down in the margins of the biblical book of Job. The book of Job offers a powerful metaphor for loss and enduring faithfulness that unfortunately the film doesn’t take the time to explore further and would’ve otherwise encouraged a deeper emotional texture to the film.
Biblical accounts aside, the film has a familiar feel to it. Its narrative structure and tone owe a lot to Joe Wright’s superb Atonement, and thematically there is a hint of Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table. However, it never quite amasses the gravity of either film and suffers from hurried character motivations that lead to some events that could only be described as perplexing.
Visually, however, the film is sumptuous with Russian cinematographer Mikhail Krichman employing the skills that made his previous work on Leviathan such an arresting experience—his visual punch framing the characters centre of screen among the lush Irish backdrop.
Although The Secret Scripture misses opportunities to elevate itself from the masses, it engages more than it confounds and remains an entertaining enough tale to mask the fact that it really is a poor cousin of many films that have gone before it.
You can see my published reviews here.
Your excellent review is too kind to the film, but your term “cobbled” describes the uncertain direction very well. I found it an overly strained melodrama.