Director Jim Sheridan attracts an enviable cast in this intense period drama, set in 1940s Ireland, and he doesn’t waste a drop of their talent. The marquee name is Dame Vanessa Redgrave, offering proof, if ever it were needed, that she runs this acting game and everyone else is playing by her rules. Her profound, expressive face is a gift that Sheridan gratefully accepts, lingering on her features whenever possible. She brings great subtlety to what is becoming a stock role, but she may have found competition with the formidable Rooney Mara.
Mara is great as the young Rose, a woman out of time. She lives by outrageous modern standards like looking men in the eye as she speaks to them – sinful behaviour which attracts scandal in strictly religious Ireland. Although Mara’s performance is strong, the script lets her down a little. We never really get a sense of what she wants from life, except that the attitudes of the world around her are wrong. Soon enough she has half of County Sligo courting her through little fault of her own. She attracts these volatile and handsome suitors simply because that’s what beautiful girls in period dramas do.
The intrigues of village life are sketched intricately, but there’s little depth to any of Rose’s suitors. In the end the plot falls back on melodramatic clichés of forbidden love. What’s worse, the emotive turn where Rose is confined to a mental hospital is wasted in a few unconvincing minutes of screen time.
The revelation at the film’s heart is by far its weakest part, undoing the more carefully constructed drama that preceded. The lack of satisfying answers is summed up by a climactic dialogue where our lead asks why all this happened. Answer? “It’s just the Church, Stephen. It’s the Church.”
CAST: Vanessa Redgrave, Rooney Mara, Eric Bana, Aidan Turner, Jack Reynor, Theo James
DIRECTOR: Jim Sheridan
WRITERS: Johnny Ferguson and Jim Sheridan (screenplay), Sebastian Barry (novel)
SYNOPSIS: A woman committed to a mental hospital for killing her newborn son tells her story to a psychiatrist determined to find out the truth about her past.