Wild Rose

WILD ROSE. Starring: Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, and Sophie Okonedo. Also, Jamie Sives, and Craig Parkinson. Directed by Tom Harper. Rated M (Coarse language and a sex scene). 100 min.

This British drama tells the story of a female singer from Glasgow, who served time on heroin charges, and who dreams of becoming a Country-music singer in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Nearly all of the songs in the film are performed by singer-actress, Jessie Buckley, who takes the lead role of the film, as “Wild Rose”.

Rose-Lynn Harlan is a 23yr. old working-class, Country (not “Country & Western”) -music singer from a Glasgow housing estate. Fresh out of prison, she is reunited as a young mother with her 5 yr. old son and 8yr. old daughter, who relate to her nervously and with trepidation. With prison behind her, Rose has to wear an ankle-tag that constrains her, but she sees her chief problem as her long-suffering mother, Marion (Julie Walters) who has been looking after her children while she has been in prison. Marion informs her firmly that she must take responsibility for her two children, and urges her to get a paying job. Rose knows that her mother sees her ambition as self-serving.

Rose’s children struggle to relate to her affectionately, and pushed to take responsibility, she takes a cleaning job with Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), a wealthy, middle-class, black woman of  influence. Whilst employed, Rose pursues her ambition to “make it at Nashville”, and sings songs of heartbreak and raw emotion with spirited gusto for the people around her.

The film is a melancholy ode to Country-music in which Jessie Buckley shines. Her performance as the ambitious singer, “Wild Rose”, is outstanding.  This is a bitter-sweet film that captures the magic of Country-music, and Buckley lights up the screen whenever she sings. Rose’s special talent is recognised by Susannah, who has known a dissatisfied life, and whilst Rose is in Susannah’s employ, Susannah tries to help her get a break in show-business.

Backed by great musical support, and at times some imaginary musicians behind her, Jessie Buckley captures Rose’s recklessness and self-doubt and reflects these traits in the songs she sings. Her songs dramatically put to music her personal search for purpose and self-identity. Showing enormous vulnerability, Buckley sings to Rose’s faults, and Director, Tom Harper, communicates their impact on Rose in a moving, emotional way.

Julie Walters, as Rose’s mother, impressively takes the role of a determined mother who wants her daughter to accept responsibility, whilst at the same time knowing personally what it is to have dreams that are difficult to realise. This is a movie that dramatically strikes a balance between harsh reality and thwarted ambition. It demonstrates convincingly what can occur when talent accompanies ambition, and when responsibility and hope go hand in hand.

Multiple social issues surface as the movie develops its momentum. The movie addresses the issue of female sacrifice, the rigorous demands of motherhood on the poverty-line, and the challenges of trying to satisfy burning ambition. It tackles the confusion caused by competing personal motivations, and explores the impact of family relationships that are heavily conflicted. The film doesn’t attempt to find easy answers to its social issues, but it imbeds them in tuneful Country-music that never lets go of keeping us in contact with a mixed-up heroine. Rose is painted initially as too selfish for responsible motherhood, but she works that conflict through.

Despite some threadbare moments in scripting, the direction of the movie is well controlled by Tom Harper, and he supplies an unexpected ending that resolves many (though not all) of the issues. He delivers handkerchief moments in the final scenes of the movie that genuinely inspire.

This is an entertaining and enjoyable movie that glows with the talent of Jessie Buckley. Playing a conflicted woman, Buckley communicates engagingly and joyfully the spirit of a talented, Country-music singer, coming to grips with serious problems in her life, and surviving.

Peter W Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Universal Pictures International

Released June 13, 2019


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