It feels like only five minutes ago that the world was obsessed with A Star Is Born. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but feel like Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s lovefest seems to have fallen off a cliff in terms of cultural footprint and longevity. With the exception of Shallow still being played on the radio fairly regularly, the film in general has done just about as little as Avatar to enter the public consciousness in terms of something having a huge splash and then no ripples! The great thing about this current era of cinema, however, is that you only have to look around the corner to find another musical coming your way!
Wild Rose tells the story of Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley), a young Glasgow mother of two, recently released from a year in prison, who struggles to find the balance between looking after her children and chasing her life long dream of becoming a famous country singer. With the tough love of her mother Marion (Julie Walters) and the enthusiastic support of her house cleaning employer Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), Rose-Lynn is presented with plenty of opportunity to showcase her natural talents, but alongside her clear musical gifts are the responsibilities of her teenage mistakes, forcing her to make big decisions, not all of them ones that help to better her chances.
To facts are that you won’t hear half as much about Wild Rose as you did A Star Is Born, and that is a shame because I happen to think it is just as deserving of praise, if not more deserving. There is a grittiness and painful authenticity to the story that makes for a really rich, dramatic social narrative, and then alongside this drama you have an array of country influenced musical performances that succeed in either making you feel like yeehawing, or touching your heart with real emotion. At one point in the film Rose-Lynn describes country music as “three chords and the truth”, and there is definitely something about the story telling tradition of the genre that lends itself perfectly to a plot that contains elements of pain, joy, triumph, loss, everything on the emotional spectrum.
Council estate Glasgow and vibrant, bustling Nashville are two cultures that have rarely, if ever, been presented on screen before, and there is something clashing yet complimentary about the different ends of the cultural spectrum coming together. The film gets to play with the unmistakable bite of Scottish humour and cynicism whilst at the same time peppering the narrative with little spots of classic ‘American dream’, and it succeeds in grounding itself in reality but never feeling unavoidably bleak. There is always a hint of a dream being alive.
This is certainly one of the more socially conscious musicals you are going to see this year or next. Explorations of class and on the realism of improving one’s prospects with a criminal records and a bad start in life are all heavily present throughout, and it is precisely this grit that makes the low points feel really low and the high points feel really high. I wish every film could take me on such a structured and effective journey.
Not to sound like a total hipster, but dude, I’ve been a Jessie Buckley fan for more than a decade! Being the bastard for a musical that I am, Buckley first came to my attention during the 2008 I’d Do Anything TV competition to find a Nancy for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s West End revival of Oliver!. She ended up in second place way back when, but she’s very much number one these days after a great performance in 2017’s Beast and a tour de force triumph in this. As Rose-Lynn, you can feel the energy bouncing off of Buckley. Her having the pipes to handle the music was a given, but the overall embodiment of character and bundles of personality that she injects in to the role is awesome to see. It’s hard to be the scene stealer when performers like Julie Walters are on the screen, but when Buckley is in full flow you might as well just be watching a one woman show.
The cast of supporting players all put in great performances too, like the aforementioned Julie Walters. As Rose-Lynn’s mother Marion, she is the character who we can see is left to pick up the pieces whenever her daughter puts career or bad life decisions before family. At times an audience surrogate, at times the obstacle in the way of what the audience want Rose-Lynn to achieve, the best thing about her performance is that it feels completely and utterly real.
Shout out to Sophie Okenodo as Susannah. As the wealthy owner of the big, beautiful house, very much on the other side of the tracks, that Rose-Lynn cleans everyday, Okenodo plays the dual role both of unlikely friend and supporter but also a very distinct reminder of the class battle that Rose-Lynn has to contend with. Everything in Susannah’s life appears so easy and perfect, seemingly the exact opposite to the film’s protagonist.
Overall, Wild Rose is a real gem of a musical drama. The plot’s signature mix of Scottish and American culture makes for a film that contains both British grit and social realism with a a few spots of feel good Americana sprinkled across the story. It’s dryly funny, it’s sad, it’s poignant, it’s inspirational, and perhaps best of all, it’s got a killer soundtrack!