Uplifting and heart-fracturing fable worthy of a Dolly Parton number
BY JEAN WEST
Thorny, rambling, insistent, bold, like the botanical rogue that forces its way through hedgerows, Rose-Lynn Harlan is a pushy, in your face kinda gal.
And this contemporary country music fable about keeping going until you reach the promised land has the same determined force as the bucolic, floral vandal.
Penned over more than a decade by Nicole Taylor, whose own teenage obsession with country music was near pathological, the tale blossomed into a rich, vivid realisation, when shrewd producer, Faye Ward (‘Suffragette’, ‘Stan and Ollie’) of Fable Pictures, set the wagons rolling, and the dazzling Jessie Buckley was lassoed aboard.
And with a chain of knock-out reviews in the wake of the world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and now here after London and Glasgow Film Festival premieres, ahead of a UK April release, it has all the makings of a cult classic.
Flame-haired Rose Lynn is a bad-ass single mum, in denial about parenthood, whose dance with class-A medications, earned her a stint in a women’s clink near Stirling.
Time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure deprived her of precious early years with her two young children and maturity has yet to distil this realisation in the gallus young woman whose heart is set on country. ‘You’re gonnae be the next Dolly Parton,’ her fellow inmates yell as she races, out-of-breath, towards liberty.
Rose-Lynn’s prison stint crystallises a big dream – to steal away from council scheme life and the steely grey skies of Glasgow for Nashville, Tennesee, where ‘three chords and the truth’ have been the lyrical ingredients of stardom seemingly forever. After a quick shag with on-off squeeze Elliot (James Harkness), establishing her priorities, she drops in on the kids, who barely know her, and stare at her emptily, before going all out to realise her ambition.
Despite the clear disapprobation of her long-suffering mother, deftly and subtly played by Julie Walters, she wins a keen ally in Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), the posh, middle-class mum she chars for once a week, who whilst ignorant of her background, falls in love with her voice and aspirations.
The fairy-tale encounter holds redemptive promise, for this young no-hoper who survives by her own guile on ‘the brew’ Weegie (Glasgwegian) for the dole, as in a whirlwind of possibility, Susannah pulls some strings with media pals and gets Rose the platform she needs. In a lovely touch, ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris from the BBC, the real life country music champion and presenter, entertains the young star’s promise at recording studios in London, after an epic rail trip.
Soon Susannah is trying to drum up funds to transport her cheeky cleaner, who slugs whisky from her drinks cabinet and dances with the vacuum cleaner, to that music mecca across the pond. Bullet-quick rags-to-riches drama, however, is cruelly juxtaposed with a slap-in-the-face scene, where Rose’s recent past comes chasing after her like thundery rain clouds on a hot sticky day.
Can she pull this off? Freedom and it’s mercurial qualities, is a theme embossed in bold across this piece of celluloid, holding up a flag of hope for all women stuck in hum-drum existence. ‘You can do anything if you chase it hard enough, get at it!’ the film asserts.
From the first scene when Rose wrestles to get her white leather cowboy boots over her electronic ankle-tag capturing our everyday battle between responsibility and living the dream, that freedom calls. Buckley is astonishing, energetic and gutsy, but above all authentic in a role that has some parallels with her own career trajectory.
As a teenage hopeful, she came second in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s talent show, ‘I’d Do Anything’. Undeterred, she went on to train at RADA and become the formidable actress she is today, winning recent acclaim in ‘War and Peace’ and the unsettling psychological thriller ‘Beast’.
In Wild Rose, the star from Killarney, County Kerry is having a hoot as the down-on-her-luck diva embracing Weegie (Glasgwegian) patter and nuance with apparent ease.
The same uncompromising vigour that has fuelled other stellar female singers like Barbara Streisand, Judy Garland and perhaps even local luminary Lulu, fills her impertinent cowgirl lungs, and a voice that is nothing short of gobsmacking.
The film, filled with powerful women, from production to its stars, is a beautiful mother-daughter tale soaked in hope, real nourishment for a #MeToo generation, whose fight for equality in the work place continues.
Two other big players in the film are Glasgow and The Grand Ole Opry, (Nashville’s Scottish counterpart, where line dancing, Country music and Americana have rocked the joint for decades).
Buckley visited the venue incognito a number of times to refine her role. She also hit the local pubs, the Ben Nevis and The Laurieston Bar for further tweaking and it worked. Her accent is ‘pure, dead brilliant,’ to quote colloquial.
Carefully balanced humour and a kind of urban poetry litter the script: “Where are you going all dressed up like a fish supper,” says her chirpy little lad as she heads to the Opry, where she loses her job. ‘Johnny Cash was a criminal,’ she retorts when she is told the reason why.
Rose does make it to Nashville, but soon her youthful arrogance begins to transmute into something more substantial and loving. It would be easy to sugar-coat things here but Taylor and director, Tom Harper (‘This Is England’, ‘Peaky Blinders’, ‘War and Peace’), have this in check.
Banjaxing any schmaltzy Hollywood conclusion they veer us smack bang into the joltingly unexpected. This petty criminal gets her comeuppance, and it is something self-imposed and pure, for all of her big shot ways. An elegant realisation that has life-changing impact.
The tale plays out with all the heart fracture and toil Emmylou, Tammy or Dolly might serve up in their mournful lyrical, deep southern storytelling.
Deep, moving, magical and hugely uplifting, when it comes to next year’s award season shoot-outs, expect Wild Rose to be pretty darn quick off the draw.
- Wild Rose is released in UK cinemas on April 12.