I arrived late to a film I was genuinely excited to see; I love a good historical drama and the trailer seemed promising. As I was ushered to my seat, the audience was chuckling at some character’s joke, and I thought, Yippee, this is going to be a goodie! Unfortunately, it was not to be so.
Directed by Jim Sheridan, who is best known for his 1997 film, In The Name of the Father, The Secret Scripture is a story about an old Irish woman called Rose (played by Vanessa Redgrave) who has been locked away in a mental asylum for decades after being accused of murdering her own baby. She recounts the romantic tragedy of her youth during World War II to a kind-hearted nurse and Dr. Grene (Eric Bana), a young psychiatrist who has come to evaluate her mental state to determine whether or not she should be released. The film jumps back and forth between the present, frail Rose, who is adamant her son is still alive and will one day rescue her, and to the fresh-faced, beautiful girl that only wanted her happily-ever-after those many years ago.
This narrative intrigued me and it was not with the story that I found much fault, but with the filmmaking itself. Whoever decided this movie needed an orchestral soundtrack that heaved with sentimentality and emotion playing in every scene should have been checked. The music was unoriginal and overused, which were two words that I felt came to describe this film in general. The sound bridge of a fighter jet flying past while Rose’s withered face faded to the wartime scenes of old was a dull cliché; in fact, the whole setup of an old lady called Rose telling in flashbacks her story of the many men whom she enamoured as a young woman? It was like Titanic and The Notebook combined except without all the brilliant originality and drama that those films are famed for.
The whimsical comedy that the film managed to achieve at times may have delighted some members of the audience, but it didn’t connect with me. I was too frustrated over the pile of clichés that the film built in less than two hours. Like, for instance, the cliché of love at first sight. Rose catches eyes with Michael, a rugged, handsome pilot off to join the war (Jack Reynor), and the romantic music and suggestive acting is like the film is yelling at us, ‘They’re in love! This is it! Accept the romance!’ I don’t like when films tell me what to feel and I certainly don’t like relationships that begin without a real connection or any background. It means there’s no one for the audience to fall in love with.
As the movie progressed I couldn’t shake the sense that the film kept using cheap and easy ways to tell us information—which Sheridan could have explored more creatively. Old Rose’s voice over narration and the fade-to shots of her writing on her ‘secret scripture’—her bible—was unnecessary and distracting. But nothing was more disappointing than young Rose’s character. Flat-faced, reserved and seemingly without any flaws except for perhaps being a little naïve, Rose suffered from having little to no personality at all. Her one saving attribute was that she was a big-eyed, beautiful creature, that all the interesting, intriguing male characters chased after. Woop-dee-doo!
Funnily enough, the best moments of this film were those when we were made to question Rose’s morality and when Redgrave was able to perform the most emotionally difficult scenes for Rose’s character—her screams, her sobs and her shaking breaths. If the filmmakers had been able to explore the more human side of Rose the film would have been made better for it.
This is a film that tried way too hard to be sentimental and romantic (cut to shot of old-Rose playing the piano woefully) but just couldn’t cut it, mostly because the characters felt too shallow and the filmmaking wasn’t innovative enough. The quiet, supportive relationship between Rose and Michael after he returns from the war suddenly transforms into almost uncomfortable, passionate sex overnight. Then, cut to old-Rose talking about it (yeesh). Cut back to Michael saying, “I want to keep you all to myself” (was that supposed to be sweet?), and then the two getting married after seemingly one night in the same bed together. Someone clearly didn’t have the modern youth of today as their target audience.
Maybe I was being too cynical, because the film drew a clap from the audience at the end, and happy murmurs from an older audience. But I wasn’t having it. This film may be what a different generation considers great drama and romance, but not for us. If the movie wanted to compare itself to other greats belonging to the same genre, it shouldn’t have. We don’t settle for The Secret Scripture after Titanic and The Notebook.
The Secret Scripture is in cinemas now.