Wild Rose: Film Review

Rating: 3

By Jason Solomons

Everybody loves Wild Rose. In fact, they’re wild about it – audiences up on their feet, cheering and weeping wherever it’s played on the lengthy festival circuit, which is where films try themselves out these days, the way indie bands play small venues to build up support.

The little British film is set to make Irish actress Jessie Buckley a star, which is great, because I really like her and she’s very talented. You may have seen her in the Jersey-set thriller Beast, or as Marya in the BBC’s lavish War and Peace adaptation, which was directed by Tom Harper, who also   now directs Jessie in Wild Rose. You may know her from that short-lived Saturday night talent show I’d Do Anything, in which she came second but ended up being cast in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music anyway.

Well, she’s a star now, singing and acting like a whirlwind through this story of the titular Glaswegian Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie rarely gets  to use her natural Irish accent on screen) cleaner, ex-convict and single mother determined to become a country singer in Nashville.

Julie Walters plays her long-suffering mother, a role that immediately brings to mind Billy Elliot, with which this movie shares a certain strand of plucky Britfilm DNA. Although here, Walters mainly gets to tut and mind Rose’s little children while she covers up her probationary ankle tag in cowboy boots and goes off to get gigs, or get drunk, or get into fights. Eventually, Rose gets a break through Susannah, Sophie Okonedo’s kindly ex-TV producer, who is now living in Glasgow. This bit did feel to me to be a little contrived, when things start happening because it’s a film script rather than a real story. That’s what lost me a bit and makes me warn you that you might not love it as much as everyone else around you.

Rose isn’t quite as infectious as the film seems to think she is. She’s a bit annoying and frustrating, wildly irresponsible and unmotherly, stupid and ungrateful, selfish and spiky. She doesn’t do what’s expected of her – and that’s exactly what makes her so intriguing and inspiring. 

Of course, she’s written that way, a fully complex, self-doubting, funny female character created by Scottish scriptwriter Nicole Taylor, who also penned some of the songs with Buckley. I sense a tension between the original character and a film (and its financiers) that ultimately wants to get you on your feet and win awards, which it may well do. It could be a hit soundtrack album, too, played by BBC Radio 2, which features in this movie as it does in the current Brit success Fisherman’s Friends. 

Isn’t that what country is all about: hardship, tears and tainted dreams? It’s all here in Wild Rose. Darn it, the Americans might even take her to their hearts – they love this ‘star is born’ stuff in Hollywood, and Buckley belts out the songs and the performance with admirable, crowd-pleasing, dream-reaching gusto. Go cheer her on.