Jessie Buckley is superb as an aspiring country singer determined to break from her past and get to Nashville in director Tom Harper’s Glasgow-set Wild Rose.
Country Dreamin’by Chris Drew
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Rose-Lynn Harlan (Buckley, Beast) is an ex-convict, unconfident mother, former wild child and wannabe country music star.
Seeing her wrestle conflicts between her impulsive rebellious streak, love for her children – despite feeling ill-prepared for the responsibilities of motherhood – and burning desire to follow her musical dreams is at the heart of Wild Rose.
We first see Rose-Lynn peeling her map of Nashville off her prison-cell wall and taking down her postcard of the Ryman Auditorium where she dreams of singing. Tellingly, her first port of call upon release is to have wild outdoor sex with a former lover.
She is then reunited with her young children, who have been living with her mother Marion (Julie Walters), and are devoted to their grandmother. Her daughter, in particular, is quiet and initially wary of her previously absent mother.
Learning she has lost her regular singing gig at a local venue, Rose-Lynn’s reaction is to pick a fight and get thrown out. She starts working as a daily woman for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda) who takes a shine to her new employee and is delighted by her musical talent. A scene where Rose-Lynn loses herself in the music while cleaning uses a nice fantasy element to literally bring her country dreams to life.
Soon Susannah enthusiastically helps to create opportunities for Rose-Lynn. An exciting trip to London becomes frantic; however, she has a real dream-come-true meeting at the BBC.
Nothing comes easily for Rose-Lynn.Twice she literally has to run for her life, a neat metaphor for her ongoing struggles in life. However, as her mother points out, she proves herself capable when she puts her mind to something. A scene where she exceeds the expectations of her children warms the heart, especially as she so often ends up letting them down in the pursuit of her dream, to the great frustration of her mother.
Walters gives a typically winning performance, dispensing tough love but allowing her love for her daughter to shine through. Okonedo is a delight as the friendly employer who opens doors for Rose-Lynn with her kindness. Both actors playing the young children are also wonderful as they gradually warm to their mother.
However, Buckley carries the film on her shoulders and is tremendous. She brings to life a spectrum of emotions and, of course, Harper makes full use of the actress’s superb vocal ability. When Rose-Lynn sings she transports you and having Buckley perform throughout the soundtrack brings a real authenticity.
Glasgow may not seem like an obvious setting for a film rooted in country music but Harper creates a realistic character-driven world and rising star Buckley truly soars.
Wild Rose screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 26 April 2019 in the UK.