By Kim Hughes
In workaday Glasgow as everywhere, dreams of grandeur irrigate the fallow fields of imagination. How one balances burning ambition alongside mundane obligation — without completely losing the plot — is the central theme of Wild Rose, which delivers its message with incredible heart, humour and a fantastic performance by Jessie Buckley as the mercurial, flawed but irresistible title character.
When we meet Rose-Lynn Harlan, she is being sprung from women’s prison where her designation as a country-crooning sparkplug as well as an outlaw is well-established. As if to drive that point home, Rose-Lynn’s first post-incarceration visit is not to her two small children but to her boyfriend’s place for a quick al fresco shag.
From the start, it’s hard to cheer for Rose-Lynn despite her abundant charisma. She’s a scrapper, maddeningly self-sabotaging, and a terrible mother to boot. And yet her ambition to be a country singer is all-consuming, a longing we can feel and a ticket out we can see, even as Rose-Lynn outsources care for her kids to her beleaguered Mom (Julie Walters, in a winking pop-culture nod to the also-feisty character in Educating Rita).
A gig cleaning the house of a rich family leads Rose-Lynn to the extraordinarily charitable Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who sees in the young Glaswegian a desire rarely encountered though it’s quickly obvious that Rose-Lynn is prepared to lie even to friends if it helps her advance to the next step in her imagined career as a country singer living in Nashville.
What follows are a series of events that put Rose-Lynn’s dream within reach but which also widen the chasm between her yearning and her reality as a mother of two with a criminal record and a ledger of karmic debts to repay.
Wild Rose director by Tom Harper gets the pacing and the mood just right. We see Rose-Lynn’s creativity squirming under the weight of her dreary surroundings but we also see her shoot herself in the foot every time, her unabashed humour countering the dark reality of her life’s mistakes.
This yin-yang approach raises the film a cut above what could be cliche. When the narrative jags left, with Rose-Lynn’s acquiescence to responsibility ironically opening a door of opportunity not otherwise foreseen, we are in deep, truly invested in this character and as disappointed by the startling difference between what’s real and what’s envisioned as Rose-Lynn is.
Buckley, who sings throughout the film, as she did last year during TIFF where the movie premiered, is tremendous, her expressive face broadcasting every emotion clearly even as her thick Scottish accent (she’s actually Irish) cloaks her words in melted taffy. Wild Rose may not be what the summer season typically delivers to cinemas, but audiences miss it at their peril.
Wild Rose. Directed by Tom Harper. Starring Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, and Sophie Okonedo. Opens June 21 in Toronto, expanding July 5.