Starring: Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, James Harkness
Director: Tom Harper
Running Time: 100 mins
Wild Rose is a British film about a Scottish woman who, despite her humble background and troubled past, dreams of becoming a star of country music.
While it’s certainly reminiscent of the classic A Star Is Born-esque story, Wild Rose is a movie about dreams with a real difference. On the one hand, its sheer passion and energy is more than enough to provide a hugely crowd-pleasing and delightful watch, but on the other, it has brilliant depth and emotion throughout that tackles real, difficult issues at the same time. It doesn’t always escape a bit of sappiness, but the core drama is there right from beginning to end, which is what makes it such an engrossing and often even moving watch.
But before we get into all of that, there’s one thing about Wild Rose that really stands out above all else, and that’s the lead performance by Jessie Buckley. You’ve seen stories about dreams and sky-high ambitions countless times before, and you’ve also seen them with imperfect characters, but there are few that hit home quite as strongly as Wild Rose, and a huge part of that is down to Buckley.
With her character straight out of prison and struggling to keep a handle on her life with two young children, Buckley immediately grabs you with the inner turmoil of a woman whose life seems to have got away from her completely at such a young age. In that, she’s hot-headed, impulsive and very aggressive, but Buckley demonstrates brilliantly that that’s all borne out of her own natural passion and understandable frustration, rather than because she’s any kind of a bad person.
So, the film starts off with her aggression and seemingly out-of-control lifestyle at the fore, yet because of Buckley’s grounded and equally charming performance, you stick with her through thick and thin as you come to realise what kind of a person she really is. Jessie Buckley not only impresses with her own powerful singing voice, but with an immense likability that endears you entirely to her character, even when it she seems to be taking wrong, impulsive or even selfish decisions.
And that’s where the story comes in. Again, you’ve seen movies with this premise before – a young person from humble beginnings with sky-high dreams – however Wild Rose does what few others in the genre do, by keeping its feet firmly on the ground and confronting you with the reality of what stands in the way of your dreams.
So, unlike cheesier, more generic stories of the same ilk, which simply put achieving your dreams down to perseverence and belief, Wild Rose offers up a devastating dilemma for its main character, as she’s forced to choose between continuing to fight hard for the dream she feels she is so worthy of, and taking responsibility for the people around her and taking a step back from her highest ambition.
That dilemma is what makes this film so emotionally engrossing, and with Rose’s immense passion for her dream, and sheer frustration at her present situation, you find yourself equally torn between choosing the dream or the real world, sympathising with her even in moments that feel entirely morally wrong, something that few films are able to do so convincingly.
That difficult emotional dilemma is so powerful because you’re entirely endeared by Buckley’s lead performance, but also made aware of the reality of her situation by the brilliant screenplay, an ingeniously layered and endlessly engrossing key theme that works brilliantly from beginning to end.
Of course, on top of that brilliant emotional drama, there’s a striking aggression and energy to this film that gives it an entirely different energy to films of the same genre, particularly compared with the most recent iteration of A Star Is Born.
Director Tom Harper starts the film off with a bang, and while its focus music genre – country (& western) – doesn’t naturally suggest an aggressive, fast-tempered atmosphere, the combination of Harper’s passionate and energetic directing and the aggression of the main character are what allow the film to flourish with such a fast pace.
It may not always be entirely devoid of the cheesier, sappier side of things, and while some of the side characters offer a pleasant respite from some of the movie’s heavier drama, they occasionally take away from both that striking aggression and grounded real-world nature, which can prove frustrating at times, particularly in the second act.
With that said, though, there are few movies in this genre that hit all the beats as well as Wild Rose. On the one hand a crowd-pleasing, endearing and passionate story about fighting for your dreams, and on the other a brilliantly grounded perspective on the realities of life, it’s a hugely engrossing watch from beginning to end. Alongside the great music, aggressive and energetic directing, moving screenplay and stunning lead performance, Wild Rose makes for a great watch throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9 overall.