Film, Reviews, Screen

Wild Rose film review: country music struggle story, Glasgow-style

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The Brits are renowned for serving up small but emotionally satisfying films, and Wild Rose sits comfortably in the category. There’s an anti-heroine at its centre who, despite her many flaws, you can’t help rooting for. You also want to tell her to wake up to herself and stop being so frustratingly self-destructive.

The woman in question is Glaswegian Rose-Lynn Harlan – a country singer’s name if ever there was one. Jessie Buckley gives a tour de force performance as Rose-Lynn, who’s just been released from a year in prison and is determined to pursue her dream of becoming a Nashville country singing star.

She has a few fairly large obstacles in her way, one being that she has two young kids whom she had in her teens. They’ve been living with their grandma, the no-nonsense and stoic Marion (Julie Walters), who’s not in the frame of mind to tolerate her troublesome and selfish daughter’s excuses for not being a good mum. Or even a half-decent mum – for instance, one who remembers to pick them up from school instead of getting drunk in the pub.

But Rose-Lynn feels stifled by parenthood and even by adulthood. She wants to live her dream and seems hell-bent on being a star, no matter who it hurts. The last thing she wants is to end up like her mother who works a dead-end job. Her arm tattoo to describe country music – Three chords and the Truth – seems hollow when weighed up against her own lack of truth and poor treatment of her kids.

Rose-Lynn’s sanctuary has always been Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry, where she’s worked and sung country music, but after being let go, she ends up getting a job as a cleaner for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) in her immaculate mansion. Susannah champions Rose-Lynn’s talent, managing to get her to meet BBC radio host, Bob Harris, in London. Susannah also gives the singer an amazing opportunity which might just see her getting enough money to make that trip to Nashville, but is it all seeming just a bit too easy?

There are some unexpected turns in the story that lift it above the average and the clichéd, and all three women give performances that are nothing less than genuine. Buckley (Chernobyl, The Last PostWar and Peace) will no doubt get more large roles thanks to her unflinching portrayal of the foul-mouthed, hard drinking, irresponsible Rose-Lynn. And as always you can rely on Julie Walters to exude screen authenticity. Their mother-daughter love/hate relationship would be excellent fodder for its own country music song.

Even if you’re not a country music fan, the original songs by Jack Arnold and sung extremely well by Buckley are good value, and there are also some classics. Director Tom Harper (War and Peace, Peaky Blinders) helms the film with flair and subtlety, and the script by Nicole Taylor boasts real heart and spirit.

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