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Review: The Secret Scripture is high-brow literature turned into skimpy melodrama

PUBLISHED: 09:24 19 May 2017

The Secret Scripture, starring Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor, is adapted from Sebastian Barry’s Booker Prize nominated novel. Picture: Vertigo Pictures

The Secret Scripture, starring Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor, is adapted from Sebastian Barry’s Booker Prize nominated novel. Picture: Vertigo Pictures


Jim Sheridan and Johnny Ferguson’s adaptation of Sebastian Barry’s Booker Prize nominated novel is thin in its storytelling but does boast some terrific acting.

The Secret Scripture (12A)


The Secret Scripture, at least the film, is a story of a bright young Irish girl, Rose (Rooney Mara), who comes to a bad end. Because it is framed as a flashback, her bad end is what we encounter first – a disturbed woman called Roseanne McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave) who has spent 50 years locked away in a mental institution.

Here she is being assessed by eminent psychiatrist Dr William Grene (Eric Bana). She was institutionalised for killing her new born baby but she denies this and has chronicled her plight in an artfully defaced Bible – her secret scripture.

Through her recollections, Dr Grene learns about the escapades of the young Rose in 1940s Ireland and her personal ties to a dashing fighter pilot (Jack Reynor) and a handsome priest (Theo James).

The first thing to say is that the acting is tremendous. I don’t really see Mara growing up to be Redgrave but both have a similar talent for grabbing, and then rewarding, your attention.

Even Bana has been sparked into life.

The cast is so strong you wonder what attracted them to this skimpy melodrama. The answer presumably is that they thought they were appearing in the big screen version of a prestigious novel.

Sebastian Barry’s book was shortlisted for the Booker and won the Costa, but you would never guess that this was based on a high brow literary novel.

Jim Sheridan and Johnny Ferguson’s adaptation plays more like a Sebastian Faulk’s adaptation.

Sheridan is good at framing his attractive young stars against some striking Irish backdrops but the storytelling is thin.

That Rose’s life is destroyed for no good reason at all would be a more effective tragedy if the sectarian grudges that were propelling it had been properly explained.

Her story is that of a terrible injustice, but in Sheridan’s film the whole country appears to be one big madhouse, filled with evil small town gossips, evil nuns, evil priests (though at least this one’s predatory sexual instincts are directed at a grown woman) and, of course, evil sectarian bigotry.


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