Wild Rose Review
We’ve had a spate of recent films focussed on young female singers, with A Star is Born, Vox Lux and Teen Spirit depicting differing elements of life in and around the music industry. Tom Harper’s Wild Rose is another that can be added to that list - a formulaic crowd pleaser full of heart, led by another fantastic performance by Jessie Buckley and a full complement of perfectly-judged supporting roles.
Anyone who managed to catch Beast last year (one of the best releases from these shores) couldn’t have failed to be impressed by Buckley, who has now positioned herself as one the most exciting up-and-coming talents around at the moment. Those with even longer memories may even recall her finishing second in the BBC talent show I’d Do Anything back in 2008. While she could’ve pursued a successful musical career on-stage, the RADA graduate combines her two talents here to powerful effect.
When we first meet Buckley’s confident Glaswegian, Rose-Lyn, she’s leaving a prison cell and on her way back to her two young kids. Her mother, Marion (Julie Walters), has been taking care of them in the meantime but neither Rose-Lyn nor her children seem elated to be reunited. With an ankle tag strapped under her ever-present white cowboy boots she still dreams of heading to Nashville and becoming a big Country (drop the ‘and western’) star.
Becoming a mother again is the first hurdle that has to be cleared and her immature attitude only makes it more difficult. Working as a cleaner for wealthy manor house owner, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), is never going to quite cut it. When Susannah hears Rose's voice she is determined to help out – hooking her up with legendary Radio 2 Country DJ Bob Harris and opening up the chance of finally making it to America. Rose-Lyn has to then decide if the personal sacrifices made along the way are worth the heartache they will bring.
Tom Harper’s film follows a blueprint you have seen many times before and while the surprises are few, the story’s emotional pull more than compensates. It helps that Buckley is singing her own songs (penned by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Wynonna Judd and Primal Scream), tying us in further with her character’s journey. The songs are catchy and sung with meaning, with the film walking a fine-line between being a gritty working class drama and an effervescent musical.
Buckley’s CV is still relatively short but do not be surprised at how quickly her star ascends over the next couple of years (she has a slew of big films in the pipeline, including Charlie Kaufman’s I'm Thinking of Ending Things). She brings a likeability factor that enables you to forgive Rose-Lyn’s naive stupidity and her empathetic performance is pitched perfectly towards the final, closing musical moment. The motherhood theme extends through to Marion where Walters and Buckley play off each other extremely well, the former offering a reminder of what a formidable actress she can be. It’s also good to see Sophie Okonedo away from TV as her talent is deserving of more prominent roles.
Even though it runs at a trim 100 minutes, Wild Rose has no unnecessary fat on the bone, with Rose-Lyn’s story quickly flashing by. Even though you can probably guess how things will unfurl, you never feel as if you are being boxed into a corner and prodded for a reaction. The performances feel genuine and Jack Arnold’s subtle score is used intelligently enough to complement the peaks and troughs of the drama, rather than leading us by the hand. It's fitting that Rose-Lyn has a famous quote from Country legend Harlan Howard tattooed on her forearm - “three chords and the truth” - in a film that speaks to and from the heart.
Wild Rose opens nationwide on April 12th.