The sigh of relief is deafening. If the movies still have an ace up their sleeve while being so outplayed by the poker-faced Netflix, it has to be the film star — the lightning-bolt real deal whose charisma is only done justice on the big screen. And cue Jessie Buckley — the young Irish actor whose firework performance is the most obvious attraction of the crowd-pleaser Wild Rose. A thousand executive producers loudly thank the heavens.
Buckley is what showbusiness knows as the double threat, an equally stellar actor and singer. Here, her rambunctious heroine Rose-Lynn Harlan is a gifted vocalist too, her talent evident as soon as we hear her pipes through a Glasgow letterbox, fresh out of prison for a drably ugly crime, her electronic tag misshaping her white cowboy boots. The boots are no accident — Rose-Lynn is a devotee of country music, apparently doomed to dream of Nashville from a pebbledash council house. The complication is not simply being born Scottish, or even the tag, but the two small faces that uncertainly greet her, a young son and daughter.
That Rose-Lynn became a mother when barely more than a child herself is gracefully conveyed by director Tom Harper’s family portrait at the kitchen table, all three Harlans staring with wide eyes at Rose-Lynn’s straight-backed mother Marion. (The fact that Marion is played by Julie Walters doesn’t just nod back to Billy Elliot but also Walters’s breakthrough in Educating Rita, another landmark of intelligent feel-good built around working-class women.)
As Rose-Lynn takes a cleaning job in the plush suburbs, Harper has musicians appear as mirages amid the hoovering. But the film’s secret weapon is Nicole Taylor’s script, turning as it does on the relationship between Rose-Lynn and her employer Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), a chipper London exile who falls in love with the pluck of her new help and plans a showcase concert to fundraise for a flight to Nashville. Of course, she knows nothing of Rose-Lynn’s conviction — or her kids.
Taylor deftly nails the dramatic beats. More admirable still is her willingness to keep the sharp edges of her story intact. (In the midst of the pre-show excitement, Walters’s Marion acidly points out that Susannah never staged a concert when her former cleaner needed a hip replacement.)
And yes, then there is Buckley. Like most overnight sensations, she has been rising for years — only in cinemas since the low-budget thriller Beast, but as a stage performer before that. The notes she hits here are pure and clear, Rose-Lynn’s brattishness, depth and raw joie de vivre wrapped up in star presence. The film does not lack flaws — the excellent Craig Parkinson is oddly underused, and you feel a pedantic nag coming on about the likelihood of an ex-con getting an American visa — but the magic of the movies prevails, as it still occasionally can.
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