Jessie Buckley is the actress who, you may remember, was ‘phenomenal’ in Beast — I am quoting myself here so it must be true — and she is also phenomenal in Wild Rose. She plays a Glaswegian, ex-jailbird single mum who dreams of Nashville and making it as a country star and, good grief, the pipes on her. Sensational. And you can quote me on that. Indeed, I wish that you would. Bit fed up, frankly, of always having to quote myself. Like I don’t have enough to do!
Directed by Tom Harper (War and Peace, BBC) and written by Nicole Taylor (Three Girls, also BBC), this opens with Rose-Lynn (Buckley) leaving prison after completing a year-long sentence for a drugs offence. ‘You gonnae be the next Dolly Parton!’ her former prison mates shout out after her. (A word of warning: the accents are supremely Glasgow and I did long for subtitles, I have to say.) Reissued with her fringed white leather jacket and the white cowboy boots that are a pain to pull up over her electronic tag, she’s good to go, but not home. First, it’s a quick detour for a shag with some fella behind the bins, then it’s home, reluctantly, to her mother’s house. Her mother — played by Julie Walters who is, thankfully, allowed to act rather than just do Julie Walters as she did in, say, Paddington and Mamma Mia! — has been looking after Rose-Lynn’s two kids, a five- and an eight-year-old. Her mother wants Rose-Lynn to step up to the plate, take responsibility, but Rose-Lynn doesn’t know how to connect with her children who, in turn, are suspicious of her. Plus, she has other things on her mind. Like Nashville and becoming a star. Should she be pursuing her talent when her life is such a mess? Yes. But also: no. So that’s what we are negotiating here.
Rose-Lynn’s life is certainly a disaster. She makes promises to her kids that she doesn’t keep. She tries to get her old gig back at a local music venue but that is nixed when she punches someone in the face. At her mother’s instigation, she takes a job as a cleaner for wealthy Susannah (Sophie Okonedo, attired in the most distractingly exquisite wardrobe) and the scene where Rose-Lynn’s mopping and hoovering becomes a song-and-dance sequence is a total joy. Susannah is dazzled by Rose-Lynn’s raw talent and offers to help, even dispatching her to London to meet up with Radio 2 stalwart Bob Harris, who gurns weirdly. (There is no award, as far as I know, for oddest cameo of the year, but he would be a shoe-in.) I know how the story will go from here, you think (Nashville! stardom!), and it does, but also doesn’t. There is a surprise twist that you won’t see coming, so, even though this is, in a way, familiar territory — see also: The Commitments, The Full Monty, Billy Elliot — it more than holds its own. And Buckley is, quite plainly, terrific.
As an actress, she convincingly delivers Rose-Lynn’s very soul — i.e. the part that is so torn between the dream and her responsibilities — and makes her relatable even when she’s not likeable, and as a singer, good grief, those pipes! Only three or four songs are performed, but with each one she practically burns a hole in the screen, and it’s entirely transporting. She is pure country in these instances. True, there are clichéd moments. And predictable moments. And the ending is pat and sentimental, and has it all ways, but her energy whizzes you past all that. She’s ‘phenomenal’. And you can quote me on that. Fill your boots.