Rising star Jessie hits all the right notes
Buckley shines as a Glasgow cleaner who wants to be a country singer in this rousing drama
In 2008, Jessie Buckley came second in a now-forgotten BBC talent show called I'd Do Anything, which promised the victor the role of Nancy in a West End production of Oliver!. Jessie, who hails from Killarney and was just 19 at the time, must have been devastated, but decided to study serious acting instead: the show's winner is now a regular on Casualty.
Jessie, meanwhile, has been bubbling under and displaying huge promise in films like Beast, and the recent BBC dramatisation of War & Peace.
Her natural talent is immense, obvious, and finally finds a worthy outlet in Tom Harper's Wild Rose, a salty musical drama written by Nicole Walker that mixes bawdy comedy and feel-good country music with the sober proletarian sensibilities of a Ken Loach film. At its centre is Jessie's barnstorming portrayal of a young woman who's desperate to be noticed.
Rose-Lynn Harlan is the histrionic but compelling lead singer of a country music band that plays regularly in a rowdy Glasgow club. Rose thinks big and for her, this is just a forgettable stepping stone on her journey to the top. She wants to go to Nashville and join the pantheon of country greats, but reality has intervened.
When we first meet her, Rose-Lynn is being released from prison after a short stint for a petty crime. Once out, she heads straight for the club to wrest her singing spot from a talentless usurper, but this should not be her number one priority.
Because Rose has kids - two of them - who've got so used to being looked after by their granny, Marion (Julie Walters), that they no longer accept Rose as a figure of parental authority. They're angry and don't believe she'll stay around, but Marion is insisting that Rose do better: how do you juggle parenthood with the quest for superstardom?
Getting a job might not hurt and though Rose is dubious when her mother finds her a cleaning job at a big house in the suburbs, the gig will provide unexpected opportunities. Rose is hoovering her way around the house one morning with headphones on belting out a country standard when her employer, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), walks in. She's enchanted by Rose's raw talent, and offers to help get a demo tape to the BBC, where she has connections.
Against the odds, Rose manages to stay focussed enough to make the tape, which winds up in the hands of legendary music buff and broadcaster Bob Harris, who invites her down to London to meet him. The encounter goes well and Rose's dream seems on the verge of becoming a reality when Susannah decides to host a concert in her vast back garden as a fundraiser for Rose's trip to Nashville. But the pressures of motherhood will not relent, and Susannah's working-class millionaire husband reckons Rose is a chancer and lets her know it. Things will not go exactly as planned.
You could compare this project to films like A Star Is Born, but Wild Rose is no fantasy and has its feet planted firmly on the ground. Rose's bid for stardom seems, by turns, juvenile and laudable: she loudly refuses to accept a lowly course in life, but is not quite selfish enough to turn her back on her broader responsibilities.
Julie Walters' Marion provides a quietly exasperated counterpoint to her daughter's relentless attention-seeking - she is, in a sense, the party-pooper, who bursts Rose's bubble by pointing out that children need to know you'll be there, and that if you make a promise to them, you're going to keep it.
Marion wants Rose to wake up and become a fully-functioning parent before it's too late, but also realises there's something heroic about a person who pursues a dream against all the odds.
Walters is brilliant, as ever, but leaves plenty of room for Buckley to do her thing. She is extraordinary, a force of nature, as the lovable but scatterbrained Rose, who does her best to avoid noticing the effect her actions are having on those she loves.
Rose is feckless, temperamental, prone to acting out, but when you hear her sing, it's hard to blame her. Buckley is an absolute belter and sings a range of country and country rock songs with electrifying conviction.
Watching films for a living can leave you jaundiced, but every so often you sit up in your seat and are moved to tears by an actor's raw, unadulterated talent.
This is one of those moments.
Don’t Go (15A, 92mins) - 2/5 stars
Yonder Cassius, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar reckoned, has a lean and hungry look. So does Stephen Dorff and in David Gleeson’s Don’t Go, he has every reason to. Ben (Dorff) and Hazel (Melissa George) have moved to a house by the sea following their son’s death. Ben feels guilty and a recurring dream convinces him he can alter the past. Snap out of it man, I found myself saying, though that task becomes harder when a handsome outlier called Serena (Aoibhinn McGinnity) shows up, drunk and looking for trouble. Don’t Go has a pleasingly macabre atmosphere, but its thin plot evaporates late on like steam from a waning kettle.
Out Of Innocence (15A, 108mins) - 3/5 stars
Danny Hiller’s gritty drama commendably grasps the nettle by taking on the Kerry Babies scandal. When gardai discover a dead baby on a Kerry beach, a genius named Callaghan (Alun Armstrong) is called from Dublin to investigate. His suspicions fall on an Abbeydorney girl called Sarah Flynn (Fionnuala Flaherty), who is unmarried and recently gave birth. He’s wrong and Sarah and her mother (Fiona Shaw) are about to endure a nightmare. Out Of Innocence is a rather stilted film dramatically, but is an education for anyone unfamiliar with this depressing case, and a window into a happily vanished Ireland.
Wonder Park (PG, 86mins) - 2/5 stars
In Wonder Park, a pleasant-looking Nickelodeon animation that somehow fails to come to life, a little girl finds out her dream world is real. An imaginative kid, June has spent much of her childhood creating a fantasy theme park run by talking animals. When her mother falls ill, June runs away from a school outing and disappears deep into the forest where, to her shock, she discovers that her ‘Wonder Park’ actually exists. This film has some decent ideas, but is let down by a listless script: the animals talk a lot, but are not witty and my junior reviewer had grown restless long before this muddled adventure had resolved itself.