Director: Tom Harper
Screenplay: Nicole Taylor
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okonedo
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Wild Rose follows the similar kind of musician’s story that we’ve heard before, where young singer and country music fanatic Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) dreams of becoming a Nashville star while trapped within a working-class lifestyle of Glasgow and the responsibilities of having to look after her family, but the familiar story is here invigorated in an electric rendering of challenging and deeply flawed central character.
We are introduced to Rose as she is released from a 12-month prison sentence on a drug trafficking charge, and her first instinct upon strutting out of the prison is to have sex with a former acquaintance before finding her way back to her mother Marion’s (Julie Walters) where here to young children have been staying.
That’s the immediate indicator that something is not right in the priorities of Rose’s life, but it’s a symptom of a dreamer who clearly had kids at a young age (the father gets nary a mention) and was not prepared to forgo her childhood dreams before her life started proper. A woman who’s arrested development began long ago and we are only seeing the latest in a long line of dissatisfactions that she has thrust upon her children and her resignedly supportive mother.
Rose’s fantasies of a life beyond her Glaswegian roots feel out of step with the realities of the real world. Not just in a contemporary sense (no reference is made to politics), but that her idealised fantasy is a far cry enough to be somewhat believable and yet completely out of her grasp. She has the burning passion and a hell of a voice to go with it, as well as the backstory to boot, but as is stated by none other than Bob Harris to her at a crucial point, she has the voice but wonders what she has to say with it.
That’s the question that ends up driving the rest of the narrative as Rose makes friends with the wealthy upper-class Susannah (played by the excellent Sophie Okonedo), who with seemingly very little to do with her time and monetary privilege decides to back Rose in various different ways while making a friend – and while her intentions are always for the best, the appropriation Susannah’s gruff working-class roots to fill the supposed dryness of her own life is self-evident.
But then there’s the reality of Rose being unable to come to terms with the fact that she does have two children to take responsibility for, who she barely knows how to speak to let alone look after. In one devastating moment, Rose instinctually pulls a peekaboo joke to her 8-year-old daughter before realising just how long its been since she really interacted with them in any personal way.
It’s not so much a choice she has to make, following her dreams to the states to staying in Glasgow with her kids, but the realisation that her fortune might not come as simply as she always hoped it would. Her odious standing of positioning herself as the sole fish-out-of-water in her city and so assured of her own abilities, that come the final act and a journey to the state where she might actually fulfil her ambitions, the comprehension of her reality arrives in a humble way, giving way to one of the strongest closing sequences to arrive all year.
Director Tom Harper shows some of his best and most stripped back work since The Scouting Book for Boys, with comforting environments made out of basic living interiors and an editing rhythm as lively and sharp as his staging of the larger music hall sequences and his fixation on Buckley’s nuanced expressions and yet animated physical performance – and she really is the reason to see this.
Not so much a revelation of her abilities as a dramatic performer (anyone who saw last year’s Beast will vouge for that) but a highlighting that Buckley is an exciting new star in the making. Besides her remarkable vocal work in the singing sequences, she’s the charge of energy that soars through the film with abandon and natural charisma. Allowing the ‘wild’ of the title to come forth, and Rose is such a brilliantly conceived character to reinforce that, this being the debut feature for screenwriter Nicole Taylor.
The work from Julie Walters here is also incredibly strong, reminding audiences once again of why we should never take her serious emotional aptitude for granted when she casts her doddering comedic demeanour in other roles.
Wild Rose takes the worn components of a rising star narrative and brings the shock of life back to them in a way that feels unexpected, unassuming and fiercely entertaining with a feelgood factor that can leave one beaming with joy as it closes, and Buckley continues to chart her way toward deserved acclaim in one of the first real gems of 2019.