“There’s no shortage of folk who can sing”, a tough-loving Marion (Julie Walters) tells her daughter who’s dreaming of leaving Glasgow to become a country singer in Wild Rose. The Glaswegian Dorothy with stars in her eyes is Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley), a bolshie 20-something with a minor criminal record and two small kids. Rose-Lynn’s Oz is Nashville and her itchy feet – no matter the ankle tag under her white cowboy boots – will get her there at any cost. So begins an arduous but always optimistic cycle, as the young woman runs away from the responsibilities of family and adulthood in order to chase who she thinks she has to be.
Director Tom Harper
Rose-Lynn Harlan Jessie Buckley
Marion Julie Walters
Susannah Sophie Okonedo
Sam Jamie Sives
Roanne Ashley Shelton
Elliot James Harkness
War & Peace director Tom Harper finds Buckley with a light, warm touch as the pair give this wanderlust-fuelled story some real weight. On the other side of Glasgow, Rose-Lynn meets Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), a prim, wealthy and empathetic woman who becomes her employer and surrogate fairy godmother, determined to enable Rose-Lynn’s talent.
Hoovering carpets without ever stopping singing, Rose-Lynn passes the time doing chores until Susannah pushes her to take the next big step. All it takes is one golden-hour a cappella webcam video for the singer jump on a train to London to see Bob Harris. It’s not a joke and more than a cameo – the meeting is indicative of the film’s uncynical ambition, granting wishes at every opportunity.
Travelling across the country and craving other oceans, Wild Rose has a great big heart and an unashamed optimism about the importance of following your dreams. At times it’s as cliched as that sounds – but Buckley has a magnetic charm and steely authenticity that commands attention. In her mother-daughter pairing with Walters, there’s great bravery and conviction in the relationship which battles pride and protection behind closed doors. Harper paints a picture bursting with colour, as butter-warm flares and musical reveries create a sense of southern comfort on the most drizzly of British days.
With its paeans to “peace in this house”, “an outlaw state of mind” and the importance of home, Rose-Lynn’s music (a catchy original score from British composer Jack Arnold) isn’t necessarily revolutionary. When she finally gets a glimpse of her mecca, she realises this for herself: everyone wants to be a star, and a thick Scottish accent doesn’t necessarily make the journey more exotic, or any easier.
The lesson of finding balance between what you’ve done and what you feel destined to do is one which resonates beyond country music, with a tender wisdom that allows a comforting watch. When the film sings, it soars – with a spring in her step and a spark on her tongue, Rose-Lynn is a hurricane. Jessie Buckley was born to be a star.