Film critic Scott Wilson reviews the Glasgow-based Wild Rose, about a volatile young woman who dreams of making it as a country star.
Wild Rose – ★★★★☆
Despite Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival and the relatively new Country to Country weekend, country music isn’t thought of as integral to its UNESCO City of Music status. Rose-Lynn Harlan, Wild Rose’s lone star hero played by Jessie Buckley, is an outsider, a volatile young woman freshly freed from prison. Returning to her home in Priesthill, she’s determined to make it across to Nashville, Tennessee, her spiritual home and where her sound will find an audience, since all Glasgow has is the southside’s Grand Ole Opry.
Tattooed on her arm are the words “three chords and the truth,” her ode to the genre she loves and her simplistic approach to life. No one begrudges a young woman her dreams, but she often fails to mention she’s a mother of two, the kids left with their gran (Julie Walters) while she was in prison. Tagged with a curfew of 7pm, she works as a cleaner for an upper-middle class family, just hoping to be let out in the evenings to gig again.
How many would-be country singers are rehearsing in Glasgow’s schemes right now?
It’s no Ken Loach, but combining the struggles of a working class life with artistic aspirations makes for a grounded film, one which dreams of success but feels the weight of responsibility. Buckley is a future star, remarkable at playing a character who isn’t always likeable but who the audience is always in the corner of. She is a negligent mother, selfishly focusing on her music over her parental responsibilities, but her devotion to her craft is such that without it she would cease to exist.
To see Julie Walters play a dramatic role after starring turns as the quirky friend in Mamma Mia and the quirkier housekeeper in Paddington is a breath of fresh air. She’s a voice of reason, reminding Rose-Lynn of her role as a mum, the importance of keeping promises and how to foster nurturing relationships. There’s a stern Glaswegian lilt to her advice, believing what she says to be obvious, but knowing it’s falling on deaf ears.
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It’s another case of a Scottish film helmed by two non-Scots, but they satisfy. Hearing Buckley call someone a bawbag might sound cheap, but she commits, making it as charming as a mention of “what’s for ye will no go by ye”. There’s a focus on the city’s southside, mainly around Priesthill, the Grand Ole Opry on Govan Road, and Silverburn where Rose-Lynn’s mum works. It’s not as pretty as, say, God Help the Girl’s fixation on the west end or Only You’s ability to make every street and building look magical, but seeing Glasgow as it actually is on screen adds an air of authenticity. How many would-be country singers are rehearsing in the city’s schemes right now?
The Wild Rose of the film’s title is as much Glasgow as it is the abrasive Rose-Lynn, a beautiful place still shaking off the No Mean City label. She has the capacity to be a star, but her worst impulses keep coming to the fore. Director Tom Harper understands life isn’t as simple as chasing your dreams or giving up on them, making Wild Rose a more profound film than its trailer suggests, in no way the romp it looks like. Instead it’s about finding a healthy balance between a creative outlet and not pushing the rest of your life to the side, and the pitfalls along the way to achieving that.