Film Review: The Secret Scripture

Directed by: Jim Sheridan – Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Rooney Mara, Eric Bana, Theo James, Jack Reynor, Aidan Turner, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor

Given its subject matter, about a pregnant woman who is institutionalised in the 40s, and told that she killed her baby after giving birth, you could be forgiven for thinking that director, Jim Sheridan, completely has his finger on the pulse.

However, this movie is actually based on a 2008 book, so the timing of the release so close to the Tuam babies scandal, is pure coincidence, although it is probably one that will affect its showing at the box office. No doubt some people will find it a difficult watch in light of recent events, while others will hope to find a sense of catharsis through watching it.

Vanessa Redgrave plays the older version of Rose, the aforementioned woman, and Rooney Mara takes on the part for the flashback scenes.

Rose has committed her story to her diary, which is the pages of her bible, writing over and around the text, creating own secret scripture. When the institution she has resided in for fifty odd years is closing, management want her out, and employ Dr Greene (Bana) to try and convince her that leaving is for the best.

However, Rose refuses to go, as she doesn’t believe her baby is dead, and has spent her entire time there clinging to the hope that they will be reunited. As she shares the story of how she succumbed to her sorry fate, it becomes clear that she fell victim to the religious and moral prejudices of the Ireland of her era.

I actually saw this as part of IFTA screening season, just after the Tuam Babies scandal broke, so it was probably somewhat more affecting than it would be in usual circumstances. Stepping back from that, and in the cold light of day, I can see that this is far from perfect.

Many of the characters are completely underdeveloped (James’ character, Father Gaunt, is a case in point) some (especially Vaughan-Lawlor’s) are played almost as caricature, and there are numerous plot-holes in the script. Many of the accents are terrible (seriously – when will moviemakers get the Irish accent right) and you can actually see the conclusion coming a mile away.

This hasn’t been warmly received everywhere, but in Ireland I think we have such an awareness of the horrors inflicted on innocent women and children in these institutions, that we try to seek out some answers wherever we can – even in a movie like this.

The problem is though, that it shouldn’t be sweet, and this movie is. Sheridan has instilled it with ‘Irish charm’, which would be great if it wasn’t supposed to be such a brutal subject matter. For a director who hasn’t shied away from difficult subject matter, I felt he played it very safe here. The focus is more on Rose’s love story, than the injustice and hardship she has suffered.

This was a missed opportunity to highlight the horrors suffered by the women who were condemned to these hellholes. Indeed author of the source material, Barry, based Rose on a real woman, who was sent to an institution for no apparent reason.

It is a nice film, and boasts some lovely performances, but it never really makes a statement, and, given what we know as fact, that makes it feel a bit lacking.

Definitely worth a look, but not nearly as deep or insightful as it should have been.

In Cinemas March 24th! See trailer below:

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