Sunday 18 August 2019

Wild Rose: 'Every so often you are moved to tears by an actor’s raw, unadulterated talent - this is one of those moments'

4 stars

Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose
Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

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 Olivier!.

Nineteen-year-old Jessie, who hails from Killarney, must have been devastated, but decided to study serious acting instead: the show’s winner is now a regular on BBC One series Casualty.

Jessie, meanwhile, has been bubbling under and displaying huge promise in films like Beast, and the BBC drama War & Peace.

Her natural talent is immense, obvious, and finally finds a worthy outlet in Tom Harper’s Wild Rose, a salty musical drama that mixes bawdy comedy and feelgood 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.

Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose
Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose

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 is being released from prison after a short stint for a petty crime. She heads straight for the club to wrest her singing spot from a talentless usurper, but this ought 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 a parental authority. They’re angry, and don’t trust that 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.

While Rose flaps and attempts to soar, her mother grounds her life, and this film. 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’ll keep it. She 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 despite insuperable odds.

Walters is brilliant, as ever, but leaves plenty of room for Jessie 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.

(15A, 100mins)

Also releasing this week:

Don’t Go: 'A pleasingly macabre atmosphere, but its thin plot evaporates late on like steam from a waning kettle'


Out of Innocence: An education for anyone unfamiliar with the Kerry Babies scandal


Wonder Park: 'A bright and pleasant-looking Nickelodeon animation that somehow fails to come to life'

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