The Secret Scripture

Review by Josh Slater-Williams @jslaterwilliams

Directed by

Jim Sheridan

Starring

Eric Bana Rooney Mara Vanessa Redgrave

Anticipation.

Yay for Rooney Mara! Nay for Jim Sheridan’s recent output…

Enjoyment.

A howler of a final act.

In Retrospect.

You’d be better off having a night in with The Magdalene Sisters.

Rooney Mara is let down by weak scripting in this underpowered study of religious persecution in Ireland.

The most striking moment in Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture occurs in the very first scene, as a soft Irish voice repeatedly states, “My name is Rose McNulty. I did not kill my child.”

Older and younger incarnations of Rose are played by Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara respectively. The former dictates an account of her misfortunes to psychologist, Dr Grene (Eric Bana), as documented in the graffitied bible she’s kept hidden during her plus 40-year stay in a psychiatric hospital. She’s been there since the waning days of World War Two, 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.

The film offers an examination of how the church and state’s control of sexuality have tainted and destroyed the lives of many women. It is not concerned with the wider political issues of the period, but a little more specificity would certainly help the film, as both its lack of nuance and persistent plotting issues frequently undermine much of the potential emotional heft.

Mara tries her best to convey hidden depths in every facial expression, but her Rose eventually becomes an unknowable cipher as the story around her frays out into too many unmanageable and awkward directions.

Script confusion is rife. There’s one subplot where a character’s life is threatened by a band of angry villagers, but their exact motivation to kill him is never articulated. Given the traumatised storyteller, this narrative unreliability may be deliberate, but the film doesn’t lead to some big twist concerning the strength of her memory.

That said, the finale does have a twist of another kind – a big reveal so asinine, and played with such gloopy sentiment (and overlaid with an out-of-place Kelly Clarkson song), that it makes oft-mocked daytime soap operas seem subtle by comparison.

Published 19 May 2017

Tags: Eric Bana Jim Sheridan Rooney Mara

Anticipation.

Yay for Rooney Mara! Nay for Jim Sheridan’s recent output…

Enjoyment.

A howler of a final act.

In Retrospect.

You’d be better off having a night in with The Magdalene Sisters.

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