What an unholy mess. Adapted from the prize-winning novel by Sebastian Barry, this generation-hopping tragedy from ‘My Left Foot’ director Jim Sheridan is like a shopping list of Irish period melodrama clichés. Lead character played by Hollywood star with dodgy accent? Yep. Romance across sectarian lines? Got it. Carefree heroine who spends her time bicycling along country lanes? Check. Dotty old woman with a fierce, proud heart? Inevitable. Evil nuns who steal babies for adoption? Of course! All this, plus the most jaw-droppingly misjudged ending in recent movie memory. It’s almost worth seeing just to feel your head spin around.
Vanessa Redgrave is Roseanne McNulty, an ailing inmate at a Sligo psychiatric hospital who recounts her storied past to kindly Doctor Grene (Eric Bana). Once upon a time she was played by Rooney Mara and lived a joyous life cycling through rustic villages attracting lusty glances from strapping young farm boys and baleful ones from tight-lipped religious types. But when she met airman Michael (Jack Reynor), Roseanne sparked a scandal that ultimately destroyed her life.
So the cast is talented, the director has a decent track record and of course ‘The Secret Scripture’ looks pretty, in a picture-postcard sort of way. But the script is painful, not just horribly clichéd but trite, directionless and unaccountably pleased with itself. You can blame Barry’s book for the disastrous climactic plot twist, but it was Sheridan’s decision to leave it intact, transforming a fairly forgettable romantic drama into a full-tilt fiasco.