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TIFF 2016: The Secret Scripture is an Emerald in the Rough


Rooney Mara and Jack Raynor star in The Secret Scripture - IRISH FILM BOARD / APOLLO MEDIA
  • Irish Film Board / Apollo Media
  • Rooney Mara and Jack Raynor star in The Secret Scripture
The Toronto International Film Festival has plenty of star power and big-budget audience pleasers—but one of the treasures of TIFF is the discovery of a film that slips under the radar but is a real diamond-in-the-rough.

Away from the media scrums and crush of crowds, smaller theaters at the festival have hosted some gems over the years: Philomena, Frances Ha, Still Alice and Dallas Buyers Club, to name a few. Even a little film called Slumdog Millionaire was destined for direct-to-video until it found audience support at TIFF in 2008.

As it was with The Secret Scripture, a sweeping, romantic drama that will find comfortable lodgings in art house theaters when it opens in North America—hopefully sooner than later (the film is still in search of a North American distributor).

The film is based on a 2008 novel of the same name that won the University of Edinburgh James Tait Black Memorial Prize, one of Britain's top literary honors and the oldest prize of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The story begins in the late 20th century with a hospital for the infirm and mentally ill faces demolition. As the patients are displaced, a physician (Eric Bana) discovers Rose (Vanessa Redgrave), who has no intention of leaving the grounds. Slowly, the physician reveals Rose's history, told in flashbacks as the young Irish Rose (Rooney Mara) falls madly in love with a British soldier during World War II. Her mystery includes a clandestine marriage, the birth of a child and an Irish priest who commits her to a mental ward. Helping the physician unwind Rose's mystery is a Bible whose margins are filled with her remembrances, including sketched portraits, lines of poetry and even the score of a sonata. 

Mara and Redgrave are wonderful with this strong material and the man behind the lens is none other than six-time Oscar-nominated director Jim Sheridan, who gave us My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father.

Sheridan frames this beautiful story with equally beautiful landscapes, taking full advantage of the grandeur of western Irish hillsides and seascapes. Shifting elegantly between past and present, The Secret Scripture chronicles Rose's heartbreaking loves and losses while immersing us in the history of the island's political tensions.

Perhaps it's more appropriate to say that The Secret Scripture is an emerald-in-the-rough.