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Wild Rose is Scotland’s answer to A Star Is Born

WILD ROSE
directed by Tom Harper

A drama about a Clydeside country singer plays its own bittersweet tune.

If A Star Is Born had been made by Ken Loach, it might have ended up like Wild Rose. It’s set mostly in the grimmer parts of Glasgow. Its lead character is an ex-con single mother of two who has made some poor life choices and is likely to make more as she pursues her country music dreams. It’s got suburban class struggle, dashed hopes and dead-end streets. And if that’s not gloomy enough, it’s also got rather a lot of pedal steel guitar on the soundtrack.

It is, however, highly enjoyable and surprisingly unpredictable. The screenplay sets up what feels like a formula showbiz story, then neatly upends it. It’s also powered by a terrific lead performance – both acting and singing – by Jessie Buckley, most recently seen being equally magnetic in last year’s psycho thriller Beast.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Here, she plays the headstrong Rose-Lynn Harlan, a name that borders on nominative determination for someone who’s a country singer. We first meet her being released from a year in jail, with “three chords and the truth” tattooed on her arm, an ankle monitor inside her cowboy boots and a renewed determination to take her voice to Nashville, Tennessee (seemingly, the movie isn’t worried about US visa exemptions for aspiring country divas with a prison record).

Rose-Lynn has long been a regular at “Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry” (a real venue), but she figures there’s got to be more to it than performing to lagered-up, line-dancing grannies. But not only does she have an overnight curfew, she’s also got her rock-solid mother, Marion (Julie Walters), reminding her that her young children (whose father or fathers are long gone) might need a parent more than she needs to follow her dreams.

After Rose-Lynn gets a house-cleaning job, her employer, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), starts supporting her musical ambitions in a well-meaning, middle-class way.

About now, you might think you know how this is going to turn out. But about then, Wild Rose makes a key change – just when it’s heading for a resolving major, it opts for a minor refrain that turns this into something bittersweet.

It’s got its contrivances and occasional corniness (the grand-finale song especially), but this tale of country-on-Clydeside is a fine reminder of the genre’s human touch, and Buckley makes Wild Rose bloom into something special.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

Video: Universal Pictures NZ

This article was first published in the June 22, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.