Tuesday, September 20, 2016

TIFF16 Film Review - The Secret Scripture

Rosecommon Regional Mental Hospital is about to close causing a massive upheaval to its longest serving resident Rose McNulty played by Vanessa Redgrave in present day. Rose has been a resident for 50 years with no one quite knowing the reason why she has been in the institution for so long.  Before she departs Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana ) is charged with completing an evaluation. The doctor begins to dig through the documents in her file noting the inconsistencies in the material.

The massive machines of the Catholic Church and Psychiatry are put under the microscope in the Jim  Sheridan film. How unproven testimony can set in motion a series of events to have someone committed  to an asylum then the downhill momentum of bureaucracy keep them there for decades on end.

As the story shifts back to the past Rooney Mara takes on the role of young Rose in World War two era Northern Ireland. She has just sparked a relationship with Michael (Jack Reynor) a future RAF pilot when she vacates to the Republic to work in her Aunts Temperance House that serves both Catholics and Protestants. Her late Mothers mental heath issues loom above her as she displays unladylike traits such as looking men right in the eye, swimming where she shouldn't and warding off suitor after suitor including the local priest Father Gaunt (Theo James) who grows ever more obsessed with Rose's defiance and combative attitude. Our Protagonist is first banished to a farmhouse on the outskirts of town where she reunites with Michael for a brief period of time.   However her non-conformist attitude lands her in Rosecommon in 1942 where she is brutalized by the nurses and subjected to shock therapy as she fight to keep her memories alive.

Sheridan adapts the story from Sebastian Barry's novel of the same name. The story has elements that reminder the viewer of two recent Irish Catholic stories The Magdalene Sisters and Philomena. The political angle is an intriguing element. The old IRA are present who's position is clearly more anti monarchy then anti-German. Rose is often asked by its supports who's side is she on.

Both Rooney Mara and Vanessa Redgrave turn in excellent performances in the shared lead role. Ms. Redgrave plays confused, vulnerable but is equally sharp and perceptive on the issues that affect her most. Mara is equally effective challenging the standards of 1940's Ireland as she battles against  the place of a woman in society.  Theo James is the other constant presence thorough the film as Father Gaunt. He has a pivotal role in Rose's story thinking that he is doing the best thing for her but seems to be present at every tragic moment in her life.

The Secret Scripture is a detailed study of a life frozen in time due to the actions of State institutions. Rose's world came to an effective end the day she was dragged into the Asylum faced with threats and experimental therapies. The power of  government institutions to hold a person in limbo for decades on end is both horrifying yet sadly believable. The film is beautifully shot featuring strong acting performances making it one that I an highly recommend.

**** Out of 4

The Secret Scripture | Jim Sheridan |  Ireland | 2016 | 108 Minutes.

Tags: World War II, RAF, 1940's Ireland , Catholic Church, IRA, Mental Asylum, Shock Therapy, Bible, Book of Job.



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