Being a country music fan, it’s hard not to be a little biased towards Wild Rose. Out now on general release in cinemas around the UK, I was lucky enough to see a preview at C2C back in March. I got so emotionally caught up in it – with tears and laughter in equal measure – that I immediately pencilled in a second viewing at my local cinema on the day of its official release. Although not quite as affecting this time around, it nevertheless had me celebrating it, not just as a film with country music at its heart, but as a film that will surely become a classic of British cinema too.
One of the highlights of Wild Rose is the performance of its lead, Jessie Buckley. She is a force of nature as single mother Rose-Lyn Harlan, a Glaswegian whose dream is to make it as a country singer in Nashville. Fresh out of jail, she is determined to pursue her lifelong dream. But achieving it is not going to be easy. Writer Nicole Taylor perfectly plots her circumstances out through the opening few minutes, giving us a real insight into the reality of her situation. But the subsequent script is far from straight forward, offering a few surprise twists and turns as we follow Rose-Lyn on a journey that is as much about finding herself as reaching her goal. Buckley is dynamic and ruthless in the role; the reckless and passionate nature of her character is performed with such vigour by the Irish-born actress that the film becomes an engaging watch. Never has an actress seemed more suited to a role.
The soundtrack to this film is pitched to perfection. Composer and music producer Jack Arnold has done an outstanding job in picking a selection of country songs that finely compliment the on screen action. A mix of covers and originals – most sung by Buckley herself – add real value to the narrative. The diegetic voice of Buckley is never in doubt: Rose-Lyn really does have talent. The scene where she films herself singing ‘Peace in This House’ is a particularly spine-tingling moment in which her vocals truly shine bright. And they come to be fully accomplished in the final scene, during which she sings ‘Glasgow’ – a performance that is truly captivating, as it is inspiring.
The social realist aesthetic will undoubtedly draw comparisons with the films of Ken Loach. But it also has much in common with classics such as Billy Elliott and The Full Monty. It is very much rooted in its setting of a working-class council estate whilst having a fantastic element that elevates it above kitchen sink drama without ever ascending into cheesiness. It is a gritty yet uplifting tale; a narrative laced with hope and tempered with despair. It is a story not just about chasing your dreams in spite of the obstacles; at its centre, it is about relationships, particularly that of mother and daughter. Here, mum Marion is played by Julie Walters, who delivers an arresting performance. Together, she and Buckley are simply spell-binding.
Whether a country fan or not, Wild Rose is a film worth seeing. There may be some added bonuses for those who are – a brief but beautiful cameo from Ashley McBryde, for instance, will probably add much greater emotional weight to the scene for those who have prior knowledge of her – but for the average cinema goer, there is still plenty to love about this film. There is a real depth to the dialogue, immense beauty in some of the shots, and the performances of the cast are simply terrific. This is a music film that really works. And for me, it works better than another recent film with country music at its heart. I think it’s time for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga to step aside. A new star is born. Her name is Jessie Buckley. And the film is Wild Rose.
Review by Gaz Williams