The Secret Scripture (film)

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The Secret Scripture
The Secret Scripture (film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJim Sheridan
Produced byNoel Pearson
Written by
  • Jim Sheridan
  • Johnny Ferguson
Music byBrian Byrne
CinematographyMikhail Krichman
Edited byDermot Diskin
Distributed byVertigo Releasing
Release date
  • 10 September 2016 (2016-09-10) (TIFF)
  • 19 May 2017 (2017-05-19) (Ireland)
Running time
108 minutes[1]

The Secret Scripture is an Irish film, directed by Jim Sheridan, from a screenplay by Sheridan and Johnny Ferguson, which is based on the 2008 novel of the same name The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. The film stars Vanessa Redgrave, Rooney Mara, Eric Bana, Theo James, Aidan Turner, and Jack Reynor.

The film had its world premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. It was released in the Republic of Ireland and the UK by Vertigo Releasing on 19 May 2017.


The film alternates between the early years of World War II and the end of the 20th century.

Rose McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave) has been a patient in the Sligo Regional Mental Hospital for 40 years since being accused of murdering her baby in 1942. The facility is scheduled for demolition. Dr. Stephen Grene (Eric Bana) is a psychiatrist who, at the request of the local Catholic Church, is evaluating whether Rose should be transferred or released. He grew up in the area and has returned to sell his parents' home. Rose is adamant that she did not kill her baby and tells her story to Stephen using the pages of a Bible on which she has written and drawn an account of her life before her incarceration.

Around 1940, Rose (Rooney Mara), an orphaned young woman, evacuates from Northern Ireland to live with her aunt in the Irish Republic, which is a neutral country. There, seemingly without any intent, she attracts the interest of many of the local men. She has a brief flirtation with Michael McNulty (Jack Reynor), a Protestant who sympathizes with the British war effort and soon leaves to join the RAF. She tries to avoid the inappropriate attention of the local Catholic priest, Father Gaunt (Theo James). She dances with Jack Conroy (Aidan Turner), one of a group of anti-British Catholics. Seeking to avoid trouble after a fight between Father Gaunt and Jack, her aunt sends Rose to live in a deserted farmhouse outside the village.

One day a plane crashes nearby and Rose discovers the pilot hanging from a tree, trapped in his parachute. She cuts him down, discovers it is Michael and shelters him while he recovers, hiding him from the anti-British locals. They grow close and just as he is about to leave they confess their love, have sex, and are quickly married by the local Protestant pastor. Before Michael can leave, the anti-British locals seize him from Rose's cottage and later kill him.

Father Gaunt, knowing that Rose had slept with Michael, writes a damning report of Rose's mental health, stating she suffers from "nymphomania". With the permission of her aunt, her only living relative, she is incarcerated in a local mental hospital and where subjected to both insulin shock treatment (insulin coma therapy) and later, electric shock therapy (ECT or electroconvulsive therapy). She discovers that she is pregnant and learns that babies born to single women are given up for adoption or spend their entire lives within the institution. She escapes to the beach. Pursued by Father Gaunt, she swims to a cove where she gives birth. The policeman in pursuit in a boat with Gaunt can see Rose striking the ground with a rock and believes that she is killing her newborn son. In actuality, Father Gaunt has taken the baby.

In the present Stephen reveals to Rose's nurse (Susan Lynch) that his own father tried to tell him something about his parentage on his deathbed. He reads a passage from Rose's writing that suggests the baby was born in spring and an official document states 1 May 1942, the same day he was born. Searching his parents' papers, he finds a letter to him from his father revealing that he was indeed adopted and enclosed is a cross from his real father. He then figures out who his real parents are. Stephen returns to the mental asylum and shows Rose the letter. Stephen takes Rose to his family home.



In January 2014, it was revealed that Jessica Chastain and Vanessa Redgrave had been cast in the film, with Noel Pearson producing the film, and Thaddeus O'Sullivan directing the film from a screenplay by Johnny Ferguson.[2] In March 2014, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Jeremy Irons, were cast in the film.[3] In July 2014, it was revealed that Rooney Mara had been cast in the film, replacing Chastain with Jim Sheridan replacing O'Sullivan as director.[4] In August 2014, it was revealed that Theo James, Eric Bana, Jack Reynor were in talks to co-star in the film.[5] In August 2015, it was revealed that Brian Byrne had composed the score for the film.[6]


Filming was originally slated to begin in May and September 2014.[7][8] Principal photography (including at Inistioge, County Kilkenny) began on 13 January 2015 and concluded on 6 March.[9][10] During production of the film, Rooney Mara, Theo James, Eric Bana, Susan Lynch, Antony Acheampong and Vanessa Redgrave, were spotted filming.[11][12][13]


In February 2014, Voltage Pictures began selling distribution rights to the film at the Berlin Film Festival.[14] In November 2014, Relativity Media acquired U.S distribution rights to the film.[15] In January 2016, the first image of Rooney Mara and Jack Reynor was released.[16] In May 2016, Sheridan announced the film had been removed from Relativity Media, and it would be sold to a different distributor.[17] The film had its world premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.[18]

The film was scheduled to be released in the United Kingdom on 24 March 2017.[19] It was later pushed back to 19 May 2017.[20] It was released in the United States on 13 October 2017, in a limited release and through video on demand by Vertical Entertainment.[21]


Reviews of the film have generally been mixed to negative. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 32%, based on 37 reviews, with an average rating of 4.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Secret Scripture has acclaimed source material and a well-chosen cast in its corner, but despite its stars' valiant efforts, this adaptation was better left on the page."[22] On Metacritic the film has a score of 37 out of 100, based on 10 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[23]


  1. ^ "The Secret Scripture". Toronto International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 8 October 2017. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  2. ^ Kit, Borys (31 January 2014). "Berlin: Jessica Chastain's 'Secret Scripture' Finds a Director (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  3. ^ Henderson, Luke (27 March 2014). "Two more names added to 'Secret Scripture'". Sligo Weekender. Archived from the original on 6 December 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  4. ^ Yamato, Jen (23 July 2014). "Rooney Mara Signs on For Jim Sheridan's 'Secret Scripture'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  5. ^ Kroll, Justin (6 August 2014). "Theo James, Eric Bana and Jack Reynor Join Rooney Mara in 'Secret Scripture' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  6. ^ filmmusicreporter (19 August 2015). "Brian Byrne Scoring Jim Sheridan's 'The Secret Scripture'". Film Music Reporter. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  7. ^ Kit, Borys (31 January 2014). "Berlin: Jessica Chastain's 'Secret Scripture' Finds a Director (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  8. ^ Yamato, Jen (23 July 2014). "Rooney Mara Signs on For Jim Sheridan's 'Secret Scripture'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  9. ^ White, Tom (13 January 2015). "Jim Sheridan's The Secret Scripture Begins Shooting". The Movie Bit. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  10. ^ "This little Kilkenny village has been utterly transformed into a Hollywood film set". 2 February 2015. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  11. ^ Ariola, Kat (20 June 2015). "The Secret Scripture' Movie Photos: Theo James, Rooney Mara And Cast Bring Characters To Life For Jim Sheridan Film". FashionNStyle. IBT Media. Archived from the original on 14 October 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  12. ^ MailOnline Reporter (27 January 2015). "If you thought the American Sniper 'baby' was freaky, check out the one Rooney Mara uses in new suspense thriller The Secret Scripture!". Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  13. ^ Betiku, Fehintola; Ojomu, Nola; Agius, Nicola (12 February 2015). "Vanessa Redgrave and Eric Bana wrap up warm in quilted jackets as they film scenes for upcoming thriller The Secret Scripture". Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  14. ^ McNary, Dave (1 February 2014). "Berlin: Jessica Chastain's 'Secret Scripture' Set to Shoot in May in Ireland". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  15. ^ Kay, Jermey (5 November 2014). "Relativity, Voltage privy to The Secret Scripture". Screen Daily. Screen International. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  16. ^ Murphy, Niall (14 January 2016). "Irish Film Preview - Jim Sheridan's The Secret Scripture". Scannain. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  17. ^ McCarthy, Esther (25 May 2016). "Internet forcing filmmakers like Jim Sheridan to adapt". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  18. ^ Raup, Jordan (26 July 2016). "TIFF 2016 Line-Up Includes 'Nocturnal Animals,' 'La La Land,' 'American Pastoral,' and More". The Film Stage. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  19. ^ "The Secret Scripture to go on nationwide cinema release in March following ADIFF Irish Premiere". Irish Film Board. 20 January 2017. Archived from the original on 26 January 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  20. ^ "Past, present and future releases..." Launching Films. Film Distributors' Association. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  21. ^ Nolfi, Joey (18 September 2017). "Rooney Mara is suspected of murder in the haunting Secret Scripture trailer". Entertainment Weekly. Time. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  22. ^ "The Secret Scripture (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  23. ^ "The Secret Scripture Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 16 March 2018.

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