“Who ever heard of a country singer from Glasgow?” is the promo-friendly line at the heart of WILD ROSE. Putting aside how that perhaps ignores the long and storied role of folk music in Scotland, Rose Lynn’s musical El Dorado is Nashville, Tennessee. Tom Harper’s film follows her travails in trying to make it there both physically and musically, and the barriers in her way. The film skirts around a number of interesting approaches to themes, but its determination to be a fast-paced and uplifting tale robs it of being a more memorable tale.
We join Jessie Buckley’s Rose-Lynn Harlan as she is released from twelve months in prison for an offense which becomes clear later. Whilst inside her mother Marion (Julie Walters) has looked after her two young schoolchildren, and Rose has lost her regular gig at the Grand Ole Opry. Re-emerging into her children’s lives proves awkward; an ankle tag and curfew prevent her from reestablishing her local music career, Rose proves irresponsible with said curfew and her children while she adjusts to them and a cleaning job at a wealthy family’s home. Hearing her sing, however, her cleaning client – Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) – offers to give her some BBC contacts. Pursuing her dreams once more, Rose must sideline her children and continue to frustrate her mother to take advantage.
Nicole Taylor’s script has a number of interesting angles to it, undermined by the slightly frothy plot progression chosen to place the film as an uplifting musical ride. Primary among those angles of interest is the delicate equilibrium between showing Rose-Lynn as being irresponsible and also unlucky and put upon. There is a precarious balancing performed by Taylor and Buckley to keep Rose-Lynn sympathetic – we are always rooting for her even as she drinks dangerously close to her curfew, is absent-minded about her children’s well-being and self sabotages left, right and centre.
“WILD ROSE [highlights] the talents of the an accomplished cast and some important themes. It is also refreshing to have an underdog story where the barriers are more obviously socio-economic, without rooting the story in misery and patronising faux-empathy.”
Buckley’s own vocal talent sells the idea that Rose-Lynn is genuinely talented, even if her laser-focus on Nashville specifically seems a conveniently high bar for creating drama. The concept of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” is critiqued subtly in the idea that her wealthy employer can suddenly get her in front of a BBC bigwig upon noticing her talent. The police state infantilisation of ankle tags is also wonderfully skewered in Rose-Lynn’s attempts to win a court order for removal (the endeavour giving rise to one of the funnier scenes in the film). Class differences are also highlighted well with the interplay between Rose-Lynn and Susannah, as well being highlighted visually. A notable example is a wonderful overheard shot showing the working class Rose-Lynn running around the streets, so close to a garden party dripping with casual wealth but completely separate.
“Aspiring to be a less bleak I, DANIEL BLAKE with added slide guitar is all well and good but not if that requires injecting false urgency.”
In those moments, WILD ROSE feels like a film with a point to make alongside its excellent soundtrack and lead performances. Aspiring to be a less bleak I, DANIEL BLAKE with added slide guitar is all well and good but not if that requires injecting false urgency. At the same time, authentically written barriers fade away just as quickly as they were introduced. The determination to be uplifting ends up evoking a different Loach award winner in THE ANGELS’ SHARE. Beyond the Scottish setting, that film was another with a lighter tone, but still involving social commentary undermined by the ease with which obstacles are overcome or disappear. WILD ROSE relies on strange instances of obstacles paragliding in from the plot gods when it might be better served spending more time consistently developing the existent ones. This is most obvious in a time jump, the result of which doesn’t quite reach deus ex machina levels, but only as a result of seeming like a criminally overlooked possibility during the rest of the runtime.
WILD ROSE is an enjoyable film, highlighting the talents of the an accomplished cast and some important themes. It is also refreshing to have an underdog story where the barriers are more obviously socio-economic, without rooting the story in misery and patronising faux-empathy. The lead performances carry the film, and the soundtrack is sure to sell well. With some more plot discipline, though, it’s hard to shake the feeling WILD ROSE couldn’t have been so much more.