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THE SECRET SCRIPTURE

“Rooney Mara… effortlessly seducing each and every man that crosses her path, much to her ultimate detriment.”
Wayward Wolf.
The Secret Scripture is Jim Sheridan’s realisation of the Sebastian Barry novel of the same name.
It tells the story of Rose McNulty, an elderly lady incarcerated for most of her life in a mental asylum. With the asylum due to be demolished, Rose must leave the place that has been her home for over forty years. Either she will be transferred to another unit, or released into the community. This is still to be determined, and it represents something of a quandary for the asylum’s owner whose attempts to ascertain Rose’s current state of mental health have been blunt and tactless, and predictably therefore, fruitless.
Rose insists that she will only ever leave when her long lost son returns in person to take her away from the place.
This is the same son that she killed when he was just an infant – or so the story goes.
Be it amicably or through sedation, Rose has no choice but to leave, and it’s only when psychiatrist, Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana) agrees to re-assess her himself, that she is granted a brief stay of execution at the facility.
She proceeds then to open up and reveal the contents of her hidden, make-shift diary which has been scrawled upon the pages of an old bible. It is a diary whose content spans much of her considerable life.
With a memory ravaged by time – not to mention multiple electroconvulsive therapies – Rose still manages to recall a fascinating life in which the jealousy, prejudices and vehement political leanings of others have all led to her being locked away from society so unjustly, and for so many years.
It soon becomes clear that the official version of events that led to such a life of hardship for Mrs McNulty, is anything but the real truth.
A narrative that oozes forbidden love, a large dose of injustice and the perils of poisoned political influence, should realistically set The Secret Scripture up to be something of a grand, unforgettable, sweeping, romantic epic, and in some ways it is.
But for a film with such lofty ambitions, it also fails to deliver as it could and probably should.
There’s a general clunkiness about The Secret Scripture, and it’s not for want of decent performances. Rooney Mara in particular convinces as the young Rose, a girl who seems somehow to be not in control of her own sexuality; effortlessly seducing each and every man that crosses her path, much to her ultimate detriment.
No, the clunkiness seems to stem rather from a failure to fully examine and emotionally connect with any sense of depth, the more weighty components of the tale, namely:
A young, tormented Catholic Priest whose jealous infatuation with young Rose can never be anything more than that.
A forbidden relationship between a Catholic girl from County Sligo and a young lad who chooses to ‘betray’ his Irish roots and join the RAF to help with the war effort.
The ‘imprisonment’ – for that is effectively what it was – of a pregnant Rose, in a mental asylum, and the significant ill treatment that she would receive there.
And perhaps more than anything, the realisation that she would never be allowed to keep her child, who, when the time came, would be taken from her, destined to join some invisible wealthy family on the other side of the Atlantic, in the United States of America.
All of these story lines and more, instead, pass us by without us ever truly appreciating what the enormity of their impact would have been. And that’s disappointing considering other films have focused upon similar themes, and done so with far greater impact. The 2013 drama, Philomena, immediately springs to mind.
There’s been a rather negative press surrounding this Jim Sheridan piece and I think on balance that that’s perhaps a little unfair, although conversely, also understandable to some degree. It’s all just a little too neat and tidy and a tad ‘convenient’ and predictable in places.
But that said, this is a film which proves that by employing a directorial approach that is above all honest, whilst exhibiting both a little goodwill and a certain warmth of spirit, you can sometimes cover a multitude of sins.
In spite of its faults and inadequacies – and there are many – The Secret Scripture still manages to tick enough boxes to entertain, delivering a certain level of poignancy and glossy sentiment as it does so, which just about carries it through.

FILM REVIEW: Carol

There seems to have always been a degree of prudishness in the United States when it comes to anything sex or sexuality related. That may well be rich coming from an Englishman, but the juxtaposition between the apparent blanket acceptance of gun wielding patriots and the often vociferous disapproval by many of ‘love’ expressed in any way other than through a conventional, heterosexual union, is both stark and prominent.

Mid-century America seems as glaring an example of this as any relatively recent moment in time.

Carol is the film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt,telling the story of a young lady, Therese, discovering her sexual identity, and Carol, a woman remaining stoic through the breakdown of her marriage and a subsequent messy divorce.

Right from the off, by way of Therese and Carol’s shared fascination with a  model train set on display in the department store in which Therese works – something perhaps that would be considered traditionally the domain  of young boys or men – we are made aware that both ladies are in some way ‘different’ from the then accepted norm.

Their initial introduction to one another through Carol’s purchase of the aforementioned train set as a present for her young daughter, is developed still further by way of a fateful occurrence when Carol leaves one of her gloves behind in the store. Therese’s good natured deed in posting the glove back to its owner begins a friendship, which quickly develops,  underpinned by latent sexual desire. The simmering passion lurking beneath the surface can ultimately only be contained for so long.

As with all good romantic sagas, something inevitably arises to threaten the course of true love and happiness. Carol’s attempts to reach an amicable divorce settlement, particularly with regard to custody of her young daughter, are thrown into disarray when her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), discovers Carol’s secret and threatens to deny her any form of custody whatsoever.

A woman such as Carol, aware that this is 1950s America, holds none of the aces and faces a battle for custody that she simply cannot win with things as they stand.

Tough choices therefore lie ahead for both her and Therese…

Director Todd Haynes has certainly brought out excellent performances from the Audrey Hepburn-esque Rooney Mara as Therese, but particularly from the here, aloof and rather unapproachable Cate Blanchett in the lead role, producing arguably her career-best work to date.

Shot on 16mm film through a near constant haze of many a provocatively puffed upon cigarette, there is a grainy, soft-focused effect at play, adding significantly to the film’s heavily-stylised and somewhat beautiful mystique.

Carol is a well paced, evocative study of sexual awakenings, forbidden love and longing in the face of adversity, but equally, a tale of men’s frustrations, bordering on exasperation, when they perceive that they have been in some way ‘wronged’.

There is sometimes no telling the lengths that a man might go to under such circumstances.

Underpinned by a strong Carter Burwell score, Carol is award-worthy stuff on many levels – make no mistake.