The story at the heart of “Wild Rose” is one that has been told time and time again, yet director Tom Harper (“The Woman in Black 2”) and screenwriter Nicole Taylor (“Secret Diary of a Call Girl”) weave a stirring, dynamic, and joyously unexpected coming-of-age tale with a potentially star-making performance from lead Jessie Buckley (“Chernobyl”).
After being in prison for a year, Rose-Lynn (Buckley) is ready to pick up right where her life in Glasgow left off. Outfitted with her signature white cowboy boots, her music, and a leather jacket, her first destination is to her boyfriend’s home for a quick romp. It seems like she’s a woman without a care in the world, independent and free, until she ends up at her actual destination: the home of her mother Marion (Julie Walters), who has been raising Rose-Lynn’s five- and eight-year-old children for the past year or so.
Immediately the weight of responsibility is placed on her shoulders, with a son that doesn’t remember her and a daughter that refuses to speak to her, and all Rose-Lynn wants to do is run off to follow her dream of becoming a country singer.
Marion helps Rose-Lynn find a place to live and a job as a housekeeper for well-meaning, wealthy, kindhearted Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), who is charmed by Rose-Lynn’s wild personality and enraptured by her voice. Not without good reason though, because oh, that voice! Rose-Lynn is an incredible singer, completely devoted to country music because it’s “three chords and the truth,” something she believes so deeply in, it’s tattooed on her arm.
Slowly, Rose-Lynn starts to be comfortable with her day-to-day life, slowly learning to navigate motherhood on her own. But when Susannah presents a chance to help Rose-Lynn get to Nashville so that she can attempt to fulfill her dream, Rose-Lynn’s options, and her secrets, will test who she is and determine who she will become.
Taylor’s script excels at digging into the layers beneath Rose-Lynn’s tough-girl exterior. You simultaneously want to scold her to get her life together already while also rooting for her to follow her dreams at all costs. Personally, I loved the portrait of a mother who was not perfect, one who loves her family but is caught between her destiny and her reality. As a mother myself, I was touched to see how delicately this balance was handled.
Far too many stories sell a picture of motherhood where being a mom is the entire basis of a character, and if she dares have dreams and goals of her own, then she’s clearly a bad mother. The reality is so much more complicated. While Taylor offers opportunities to wave a finger at Rose-Lynn’s choices, she never presents the issues as black-and-white, always doing so with a quiet ease.
Harper wisely makes the story feel familiar while never giving a clue on what will happen next. He knows just when to step back and let Buckley lead the audience, and when to jump in to guide the story softly to the next level. Ultimately, of course, it’s Buckley who makes Rose-Lynn soar off the screen. It’s a dazzling, raw, intoxicating performance, and when she sings, it’s simply electric. The real life singer-songwriter bares her soul in each note. Buckley gently lets the audience into the world of a dreamer, stuck in a cocoon, afraid to break free and fly as the woman she is, instead of the girl she once was.
The soundtrack itself is fantastic, and I say this as someone who is not a fan of country music. Whether performing cover songs or original tunes she co-wrote, there’s a magical intensity in Buckley’s vocals that any vocalist could admire. Much like the film itself, the final song “Glasgow” (co-written by actress Mary Steenburgen) is a heart-wrenching, gorgeous ode to life that crackles with sentiment and hits your heart like a ton of bricks.