It’s easy to suspect that this latest entry in the string of ‘aspiring entertainer’ stories was held back from release, after premiering almost a year ago, until the buzz around Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga had died down a little. Those who take a punt on this new offering from the U.K. are likely to find it matching, in most respects, the standard of any Hollywood film along similar lines.
There are certainly elements common to both A Star Is Born and Wild Rose, but one of the key differences between them is that the protagonist of the latter film is almost her own antagonist as well. Living with a night time curfew and an ‘ankle bracelet’ after her recent release from prison, mother-of-two Rose-Lynn battles what would seem to be an innate irresponsibility, not to mention other factors that make her quest for success in the world of country music seem unlikely at best. Rose-Lynn also differs from ASIB’s heroine in that she finds support – whether financial, emotional, or simply child minding – from the women around her, rather than an older male patron whose tragic arc becomes the focal point.
Nicole Taylor’s screenplay for Wild Rose may be nothing particularly original, but it is gratifyingly deft and complex in its depiction of flawed individuals and their imperfect relations with people around them such as family members, employers, even perfect strangers. Issues of division along class and racial lines are subtly sketched-in, rather than laid-on thickly (with the exception of a fleeting reference to the tired stereotype that country music is supposedly incomprehensible to people-of-colour).
The actresses in all three central roles do a collectively superb job of drawing us into the world of Wild Rose and giving it credibility. Jessie Buckley’s flint-edged Rose-Lynn is far from a saint, but she gets the audience on her side and rooting for her to triumph against the odds. Julie Walters, playing Rose-Lynn’s mother, delivers one of her finest performances, while the always-delightful Sophie Okonedo is an asset to any project she appears in, and here delivers another excellent portrayal in the role of Rose-Lynn’s well-heeled friend (& boss). Director Tom Harper (not to be confused with Tom Hooper) has crafted a show-business story with more edge and grit than most, rather akin to the work of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach, but with a pleasing sense of optimism that British ‘realist’ cinema rarely lets in.