Everyone enjoys an underdog story. Unsuspecting hero struggles to fulfil their lifetime goal, but comes up trumps by the end of the narrative? Smiles all-round. With a recent spike in the popularity of ‘music films’ (which, coincidentally, love underdogs – A Star is Born, anyone?), it’s pleasing to see the British film industry dip its toe into the genre with Wild Rose, starring current golden girl Jessie Buckley. A star is born, indeed.
Rose-Lynn Harlan (Buckley) – that’s a country music star’s name if I’ve ever heard one. Except Rose isn’t from Tennessee; she’s from Glasgow, and has just been released from prison after spending the last year inside. Fitted with a tag, she’s not going anywhere, especially between the hours of 7pm and 7am.
After collecting her two young children from her stern mother Marion (played British television and film legend Julie Walters), Rose promises to try harder, getting herself a job as a cleaner for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), a wealthy local businesswoman, whilst vying to get her old Friday night spot back singing at a local bar. Her dream? To get to Nashville, her ‘real home’, even if she has to save every penny from her pay cheques and gig tips to get there.
I first came across Buckley after watching 2018’s Beast, the BAFTA award-winning psychological thriller from debut director Michael Pearce, in which she gripped me as unhinged Moll. Previously unaware of her, I did some research into her career, discovering she came a close second in the BBC’s musical talent show I’d Do Anything, aged just 18 years old. Having since starred mainly in dark television dramas (Taboo, War & Peace), moving into feature length pieces makes sense, giving her a real opportunity to show off her talent. And, boy, does she do just that in this one.
Jessie fits Rose’s character perfectly – ballsy, brash, loud, incredibly talented – and is a joy to watch from beginning to end. In the film’s quieter moments, she’s surprisingly sensitive, and the scenes between her and Walters are beautifully directed; Walters the no-nonsense matriarch to Buckley’s free spirit. Every emotion shows so vividly on Jessie’s face, and we want her to win, we’re on her side. But while Rose throws herself around the stage, Marion holds down the fort at home, more than just ‘Grandma’ to her grandchildren. It’s clear where Jessie’s Rose gets her hard shell from as, much like her daughter, Walters’ Marion has a soft centre, giving the narrative a sweet-and-sour mother/daughter story arc.
Featuring ‘guest appearances’ from legendary BBC radio DJ ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, and the Grammy award-winning Kacey Musgraves, country music not only runs through Rose’s veins but the film itself, giving those unfamiliar with the genre a proper introduction.
From the off, Wild Rose is a special film; humming with energy, it pulses straight from Buckley herself. Writer Nicole Taylor‘s script is beautiful, full of quick, dry wit, contrasted by the sweeter, slower moments between Rose-Lynn and Marion. Directed by Tom Harper, it has a real, authentic, almost melancholy feel to it, which isn’t surprising when you take a look at his back catalogue, directing episodes of Misfits, Peaky Blinders and This Is England ’86. Having previously dabbled in shorts, and then the panned-by-critics The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, Harper has landed on his feet with this most recent turn behind the camera, a story full of heart, humour, a soundtrack you’ll be listening to for the foreseeable future, and two faultless leading ladies. The touching finish between the pair of them will bring a tear to your eye, and you’ll be whistling Rose-Lynn’s big finale number the whole way home.
Wild Rose opens in UK and Irish cinemas on 12th April 2019.