It has to be noted where this perspective comes from – and that is a central-belt Scot of a certain age, with some dreams behind him and some ahead. Others may engage differently with Wild Rose. So, it seems necessary to first point out the personal relativity here, which some viewers will share and some not – part of the magic and fluidity of cinema of course.
Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) is a young Glaswegian singer and mother fresh from a year in prison. Her crime is, at the outset, unknown. Awaiting her are her two children, aged eight and five, and wearied mother Marion (Julie Walters), to whom the childcare has fallen in Rose-Lynn’s absence. There’s a boyfriend in the picture, but barely and insignificantly.
Imprisonment has been but a delay to Rose-Lynn’s dream of finding stardom in the country music capital: Nashville, Tennessee. Marion scorns such fanciful priorities, and gets her daughter back on track with an £8-an-hour cleaning job – most significantly, cleaning the house of well-off, well-connected Susannah (Sophie Okonedo). A glorious Mrs. Doubtfire-esque performance ensues, featuring plentiful whisky and a hoover.
It’s not long before Rose-Lynn’s pipes get noticed, but it’s not by any ageing Govan cowboy in the Grand Ole Opry – and only despite the best efforts of the erratic protagonist herself.
Much has been made of Buckley’s performance, and rightly so. It is a glowing turn from an actress best known for a second-placed finish on a TV talent show – there’s even a joke referencing this. But as Rose-Lynn, Buckley is a winner. Her cracked, crystalline voice is one thing; the tactile pain of a conflicted, fractured young woman quite another. Some of the early scenes with her children are harrowing, simple motherly failures amplified by their mundanity and the kids’ stony stares. She tears into the role like it was written for her and her running mascara.
Walters is arguably as good in a role designed to challenge audiences: do we want Rose-Lynn to succeed; or grow up, settle down and be a mum? It is no spoiler to say the film wouldn’t work if the latter sentiment prevailed, but in Rose-Lynn’s relationship with Marion the theme of parenthood is extended generationally. Family duty is as central to the narrative as the rags-to-riches dream, and such realities provide the thrust of the drama.
Okonedo’s Susannah, just as she is Rose-Lynn’s hope, becomes a counterpoint to her and there are some sweetly comedic exchanges as an unlikely companionship builds. Her smiling children provide a vision of what Rose-Lynn has not yet learned or lacks the desire to learn. And yet, Susannah’s perfect world remains inaccessible and too pristine – working as reason to side with Rose-Lynn’s fearlessness, but against her recklessness.
A Star Is Born this is not, not least because the story does not depend so heavily on the music. Country could be swapped with any genre and this would still strike a chord (or three). The musical sequences are fairly short, but believably executed and, of course, with Buckley centre-stage literally and figuratively.
There is no gut-punch denouement a la A Star Is Born either, but nothing calls for it. It is testament to how expertly the story is told that Nicole Taylor’s screenplay soars as its feet stay firmly on the ground.
And that is unmistakable ground. The simple sights of Silverburn shopping centre or an Irn Bru elevate the piece’s identity, and for this reviewer, the potential for proud tears.
Jessie Buckley, take a bow – everyone else, take a trip to see Wild Rose.
Wild Rose is in cinemas now