London Film Festival: Wild Rose

Writer: Nicole Taylor

Director: Tom Harper

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

The BFI has made considerable efforts to celebrate working-class experiences, including a dedicated mini-season on the Working Class Heroat their Southbank home and funding movies that look at the lives of ordinary people from all over the UK. One such project, Wild Rose, has been 10-years in the making, a sweet and occasionally emotional tale of a country-singing Scotswoman who dreams of Nashville.

Newly released from prison Rose-Lynn Harlan dreams of travelling to Texas to fulfil her dream of becoming a singer, but Rose-Lynn has two children who have been living with her mum Marion and she’s even lost her job at Glasgow’s only country music club. Facing a bleak future as a cleaner, Rose-Lynn finds an unlikely ally in her employer Susannah who decides to help set her on the path to fame, except Rose-Lynn hasn’t been truthful about her life.

Wild Roseseemed like it would be a typical rags-to-riches story, but Nicole Taylor’s screenplay is much more subtle than that, and instead what emerges is a sensitively told story of a young woman torn between her responsibilities and the true self she wants to explore. The character of Rose-Lynn is rounded and fallible, talented and devoted to her passion, but escapes the truth of her life with unnecessary lies that come all to easily to her.

The strong message from Taylor and director Tom Harper is that life never quite turns out the way you think it will, but sometimes what you want is right in front of you, that fantasy and reality can sometimes meet in the middle. At the same time, Wild Rosefeels mostly like a credible representation of working-class life, a “people’s film” as Jessie Buckley (Rose-Lynn Harlan) explained at its London Film Festival premiere.

Buckley is extraordinary as the troubled young woman with big dreams, frustrated by the limited opportunities before her. As she emerges from prison, Rose-Lynn is an unpredictable and unstable personality, but over the course of the film Buckley shows her growth, responding to Susannah’s belief in her as though it’s the first time she’s ever been praised and starting to hope. Equally, Buckley charts the character’s self-realisation, of her failure to take her responsibilities as a parent seriously, trying to find a balance with a need to retain her own sense of self.

Julie Walters is equally wonderful as Rose-Lynn’s put-upon mother Marion, a woman who tries to protect her grandchildren from their mother’s caprices, while puncturing her daughter’s dreams at every opportunity, convinced that her selfishness will only end in tears for all of them. Sophie Okonedo is Marion’s opposite, and while the film initially sets-up a huge gulf between the women in both wealth and education, it’s refreshing to see them form a supportive friendship that helps Rose-Lynn see beyond her immediate circumstances.

Tom Harper’s direction contrasts the grey reality of the day-to-day grind with a variety of fantasies that recur through the movie, not just the warm comfort of Susannah’s wealthy home compared to Rose-Lynn’s basic terrace, but the colourful verve of Nashville against the quiet coolness of Glasgow, and the exuberance of Rose-Lynn’s country performances where Buckley illuminates the stage.

Wild Roseis the beginning of something for all involved, leading to an album announced at the Festival and a series of gigs which Buckley has performed during the summer with her band from the movie. While the film does set-up some of the traditional routes for working-class characters, the outcomes are often surprising and even moving, championing the value of believing in your friends and pursuing a dream while showing that perfect happiness can come by finding the balance with your existing life.

Release Date April 2019 | Image: Contributed

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