Last week, in a little gem of a theater called The Screening Room in Newburyport, MA, Marie d’Entremont and I had the pleasure of viewing a 2018 British musical drama directed by Tom Harper (Peaky Blinders). After having its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018, “Wild Rose” has been released in America (in limited release). If you love a star-is-born-type story, do not miss out on seeing this one!
No doubt every reviewer agrees that lead actress Jessie Buckley makes a star-making turn as Rose-Lynn Harlan. She has just been released from prison following a drug conviction in Glasgow, Scotland, and she’s bursting to be free so she can find a Country music career on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville. She’s got the drive, the ambition, a thick accent that’s hard to decipher at best, and the stunning vocal talents of the rarest meadowlark. In fact, it’s in the moments when Rose sings that we get to see beyond her rough façade, into her delicate inner being, and glimpse how complex her demons truly are. She is far more eloquent as a singer, than as a speaker. It’s not that she’s uneducated, but more reckless and careless in life. Full of bravado, but unsure what tools will make her dreams come true. Holding her back is her flophouse lifestyle, no idea how to break into the business, extreme self doubts, and her angry, concerned mother (Julie Walters) – who is furious Rose wants to choose dreams of a singing career over reconnecting with the two small children she left behind. Mother has been raising the cherubs in Rose’s absence, and she’s ready to hand them right back over to Rose, probably in hopes it will force her daughter to accept her responsibility and finally grow up. Rose has other ideas.
Rose winds up working as a cleaning lady to a wealthy couple in town. The refined, graceful wife (Sophie Okonedo), hears Rose singing while she cleans and becomes champion of Rose’s budding talents. She orchestrates that Rose will get to visit a radio recording studio in the city. Later, she hosts a dinner party so all of her wealthy friends and family can help sponsor Rose’s travel plans to Nashville. Of course, Rose is swept up in the excitement and the thrill of having a chance to make her dreams come true. Her mother is less than pleased, and struggles to do what’s in the best interest of Rose’s kids. It’s apparent the children see Rose’s mother as their “Mom” – because of Rose’s constant absences. And despite all her good fortune, Rose keeps messing up by being careless, ignorant and reckless.
The script truly captures what it feels like to be born a creative, talented person, who burns to release that energy into the world and needs someone – anyone – to listen and understand. It also paints an honest portrait of how everyday responsibilities clutter up our lives, only to hamper making those dreams come to fruition. The acting is award-worthy, even though most of our audience had a difficult time understanding the heavy Scottish accents. If you have the tenacity to muddle through, you’ll be very glad you did.
Jessie Buckley is an Irish actress/singer in real life. She starred in the West End Production of “A Little Night Music”. You may have seen her in BBC’s “The Woman in White” (2018), or HBO’s “Chernobyl” (2019). She has the ability to fuse Rose with innocence, ignorance, guts and never falters at creating a character we care about and want to see succeed in life. She stands toe to toe with Julie Walters, who has been brilliant in films like “Educating Rita” (1983), “Billy Elliott” (2000), “Calendar Girls” (2003), “Mamma Mia” (2008) and as Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter films. You’ll remember Sophie Okonedo from “Hotel Rwanda” (2004), “Christopher Robin” (2018) and as Liz Ten in Doctor Who (“The Beast Below”, 2010.)
Another plus to this great film is the soundtrack, featuring Jessie singing live and contributions by country stars such as Wynonna Judd, Emmylou Harris, Hank Snow, Ronnie Bowman, Patty Griffin, Trisha Yearwood and Kacey Musgraves (who makes an appearance on stage).
My feeling is everyone in the audience left deeply moved after following the journey of Rose and her mother, and we could all see glimpses of ourselves and our own desires to follow our dreams, no matter how rough the road was to get there. There was not a dry eye in the house during the final musical performance before the credits rolled. I highly encourage you to see this film if it tours a theater near you. I have no doubt it will score the highest awards for filmmaking. (5 out of 5 stars.)