Wild Rose a life-affirming movie anchored by raw power of Irish star Jessie Buckley
Irish actress and singer Jessie Buckley truly shines in Wild Rose, a life-affirming, Glasgow-set take on the rags-to-riches A Star Is Born story that confidently subverts expectations, writes Damon Smith
SOMETIMES it's hard to be a woman but it's harder to be a woman who sacrifices her long-cherished dreams of fame for her children in director Tom Harper's uplifting drama of creative strife and self-empowerment.
Blessed with a stellar lead performance from Killarney actress and singer Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose resets the rags-to-riches of A Star Is Born to the mean streets of Glasgow with a toe-tapping country music twang.
For the opening hour, screenwriter Nicole Taylor seems to be following the frequently plucked chord structures of the genre, composing obstacles that the spirited heroine must overcome if she is to deliver a barn-storming performance on the stage of The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.
A charming cameo from BBC radio DJ 'Whispering' Bob Harris, who encourages Buckley's aspiring songbird with kind words ("You've got something to say"), enforces our hopes of a triumphant and melodious final act.
In its final verses, Taylor's script confidently subverts expectations and propels the lead character in an unexpected direction without feeling convoluted or contrived.
Genuine emotion reverberates in every frame, most obviously whenever Buckley stands at a microphone and rips out her protagonist's heart like every great country diva.
Having been cast in the central role of Marya in the BBC's 2016 adaptation of War and Peace, Buckley's
star was arguably born in last year's Bafta-winning psychological thriller Beast, but it rockets into the firmament here under Harper's sensitive direction. (Forbes Magazine included her in its '30 Under 30' list for this 2019.)
She plays Rose-Lynn Harlan, who was still a child when she gave birth to her second bairn. Now that she has been released from prison with a security tag affixed to her ankle to ensure she observes night-time curfew, Rose-Lynn must tighten her feeble grasp of her maternal responsibilities or lose the respect of her eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son forever.
Rose-Lynn's purse-lipped mother Marion (Julie Walters) fears her daughter will abandon the children again to pursue impossible dreams of becoming a country music singer in Nashville.
"You better mind your tag doesn't go off when you're going through [airport] security," despairs Marion.
Unperturbed, Rose-Lynn earns money as a cleaning lady for businesswoman Susannah (Sophie Okonedo). The well-to-do homeowner is dazzled by Rose-Lynn's talent and suggests they crowd-fund the journey to America including a headline set at Susannah's impending 50th birthday party.
Sporting the tattoo "Three chords and the truth," which Rose-Lynn believes is the essence of country music, the flighty jailbird vows to prove her doubters wrong, including Susannah's deeply sceptical husband Sam (Jamie Sives).
Wild Rose blooms with a few pleasing narrative thorns, anchored by Buckley's raw power and sterling support from Walters and Okonedo as two very different but equally relatable embodiments of nurturing motherhood.
Harper gives characters space and time to find their voices and his life-affirming film hits the high notes without straining to be heard.
WILD ROSE (15, 100 mins) Drama/Musical. Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okonedo, Jamie Sives. Director: Tom Harper
Released: April 12 (UK & Ireland)