Sebastian Barry's novel The Secret Scripture has already had a spell of success and attention, winning various awards and shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2008. Now it's set to return to the limelight with a film adaptation starring Jessica Chastain and Vanessa Redgrave, produced by My Left Foot's Noel Pearson.
Chastain will be playing the young Redgrave, since the novel concentrates on two separate points in the life of Roseanne McNulty. The set up is the occassion of Roseanne's (possible) hundredth birthday, which she's sadly celebrating in the mental institution where she's lived for most of her life, but which is now facing closure. Investigating her case, trying to piece together how Roseanne ever came to be there, is sympathetic psychiatrist Dr Grene.
The novel alternates between the journal entries of the doctor and Roseanne, who keeps her diary concealed in the floorboards of her room. Her narrative reveals dark goings-on during the Irish Civil War in the 1920s, and an event that provokes the moral censure of the stern Father Gaunt, who casts a permanent shadow over the rest of Roseanne's sad life.
The screenplay was sadly one of the final projects for Johnny Ferguson (Gangster No. 1) who died last April after a short illness. "That motivated me a lot to get it made," says Pearson. "The Secret Scripture is a wonderful novel. The thing about Johnny's script is it's very character-driven and actor-driven. It wouldn't work without the right actors, so we're very lucky to have Jessica Chastain and Vanessa Redgrave."
Pearson is also developing a further Ferguson script of a Barry novel in the WWI drama A Long, Long Way. That one's further off, but The Secret Scripture is set to start filming in Sligo and Wicklow next June. News of its director will presumably follow shortly.