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Film Review: Wild Rose

Wild Rose (2019)
Entertainment One

Directed by: Tom Harper
Written by: Nicole Taylor
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, James Harkness and Sophie Okonedo

Musicals. I can’t be bothered with them. They often distort the truth like The Greatest Showman or Bohemian Rhapsody, or are just ridiculous like Mamma Mia.
Even when grounded in reality, they leave me un involved – take La La Land, A Star is Born. However, they are big box office hits, and loved by millions of people worldwide, so it’s obviously just a failing in my own cynical mindset that makes them such a drag for me to sit through.

So, Wild Rose gets a general release, and Mrs Reviewer makes sure we are going, and I can’t argue, I made her sit through Hellboy, it’s a fair cop. Set in Glasgow, a hop and a skip away from us, I decided it would be cool to play spot the location if nothing else interested me. The story of wannabe Country (not Western) singer Rose Lynn, fresh out of prison and trying to deal with her gritty Glasgow life, is directed by Tom Harper, with a screenplay by Nicole Taylor.

Rose dreams of Nashville, however bad life choices have conspired to hinder the singing career she so desperately wants, and she finds herself in a cleaning job, while trying to build a home for her young son and daughter. Mother Julie Walters despairs over her daughter and fails to see her talent, preferring her to focus on doing anything else except follow her dream. What unfolds is a tale of hopes and aspirations, just like all the other musicals previously mentioned. However, there is a bittersweetness to Wild Rose that is hard to ignore.

Rose, played by Jessie Buckley, is initially an annoying character. It takes a while to warm to her, as she shouts and rages against the world, but Buckley’s performance is punctuated with heart, and though it takes a while, you do start to side with her. Making her quite so unhinged in the first act seems a bit risky. She is brash and compulsive, attacking the singer that has replaced her in the local club, and screaming into a pillow in her room when angered by her mum, but luckily Buckley is able to find the good in the character and show the audience that vulnerability with a look or nuance, that shows that inside there is a kind, loving and talented mother, waiting for a break. The rest of the cast also do well. Walters is a safe pair of hands in these type of roles, and the supports all give their best too. Sophie Okonedo plays well to do Susannah, who employs Rose and is bewitched by her singing voice. Acting as a sort of mentor, she sets wheels in motion for Rose to take steps to pursue her ambitions, encouraging her to strive for better.

Musically, things are quite understated, thank goodness, and there is no spontaneous bursting into song and dance routines. The music is often in the background, on Roses’ headphones, or actually being played, and there is only one scene that hints at the usual tropes of the musical, but Harper reigns in the temptation of going full on musical, and this helps us believe more in the characters and their situations. The songs are also very good, I’m no expert but I imagine fans of the genre will be picking up this soundtrack, and boy can Buckley sing. The moments when Rose performs are often quite small and quiet, in contrast to her Wild persona, but at our viewing you could hear a pin drop, and often the occasional tear drop too.

The emotion, again understated by director Harper, is made all the more powerful in the quieter moments, and it’s here that the film really shines. On the down side, it’s a little slow in the first two acts, and Rose is initially not easy to like. Script wise, everything is in place, if a little too predictable, and there are a couple of moments where characters seen to U-turn quite suddenly into new perspectives, that I felt was a little jarring.

However, on the whole this is a film that has wit, charm and heart. Perhaps I was won over by the Scottish location, but this is by far the best musically inspired film I have seen in the last couple of years. You can keep your Lady Gaga, I believed a lot more in Jessie Buckley’s Rose, and it looks like me and Mrs Reviewer are headed to The Grand Ole Opry in Glasgow this weekend.

Now where’s my cowboy hat?