The Secret Scripture (3 stars)

The Secret Scripture

This adaptation of Sebastian Barry's novel from Jim Sheridan trades complexity for sentimentality

Jim Sheridan's screen version of Sebastian Barry's award-winning 2008 novel The Secret Scripture is undeniably handsome, well-crafted and expertly acted but something has been lost in translation. Barry's tale was complex and compelling as it used one woman's long, tragic life to reflect on a century of Ireland's political upheavals and the lingering scars of the past. The film seems to have chiselled away all the jagged edges and rough textures to create an old-school romance in the manner of a Nicholas Sparks tearjerker.

Vanessa Redgrave gives the film's stand-out performance as Roseanne McNulty, an elderly woman who has spent much of her life in a mental institution. Redgrave's haunted eyes and distracted manner conveys all the quiet anguish of a lost soul who has been condemned to 'live in her own little purgatory'. Now the institution has been sold to developers and the residents are obliged to leave. Dr Grene (Eric Bana) is assigned to determine what becomes of Rose and it is his interest in her and the discovery of her 'secret scripture' that plunges the film deep into flashback territory.

During the Second World War, Rose (played in her younger years by Rooney Mara) fell in love with RAF pilot Michael (Jack Reynor) and won the unrequited devotion of priest Father Gaunt (Theo James). A boldly independent woman is too much to handle for a small-minded, conservative Irish town and when her punishment comes it is brutal.

Mara captures the headstrong qualities of the young Rose and has the look of a young Kathleen Byron, whilst the always reliable Reynor makes a suitably dashing suitor, but the film struggles to make the transition from Ryan's Daughter-like sprawl to Magdalene Sisters-style outrage. The succession of melodramatic contrivances constantly undermines credibility, leaving The Secret Scripture aimed squarely at incurable romantics.

Selected release from Fri 19 May.

The Secret Scripture

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • Ireland
  • 1h 48min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Jim Sheridan
  • Cast: Rooney Mara, Jack Reynor, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana
  • UK release: 19 May 2017

Roseanne (Redgrave) is an elderly woman who has spent much of her life in a mental institution; Dr Grene (Bana) finds out about her early life. Sheridan’s film of Sebastian Barry’s novel jettisons what complexity the original had to make a Nicholas Sparks-style tearjerker, and despite strong work from the cast, it’s…