By Olivia Popp
This article is the first in a series of three articles on the 27th Filmfest Hamburg, taking place from September 26, 2019, to October 5, 2019.
Unless something else quickly comes along (“Frozen 2,” I’m waiting!), “Wild Rose” is the heartwarming, emotional and uplifting musical film of the year. There have been films like “Yesterday” and “Blinded by the Light,” but none of them astound like “Wild Rose.”
It’s also not your ordinary origin-of-a-star story and has a unique ending that stays true to its Irish and family-first roots. “Wild Rose” follows Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley), an aspiring country singer recently released from prison — but the problem, at least in her view, is that she’s Scottish! To her, Scotland isn’t the place for country music and she needs to move to Nashville immediately to pursue her career. Unfortunately, she also has two young children to raise as a single mom and a mother (Oscar nominee Julie Walters) who demands that she get rid of her childish ways and start taking responsibility.
Irish singer and actress Buckley is truly the beating heart of “Wild Rose.” As Rose-Lynn Harlan, Buckley explodes with energy and sprightly youthful innocence that matches her bursting shock of enviably luscious red hair. Buckley flexed her dramatic talents as Lyudmilla Ignatenko in the acclaimed “Chernobyl” and starred in the psychological thriller “Beast,” but “Wild Rose” is undoubtedly proof of her multi-talented performance skills. She evokes legendary bluegrass/country singer and instrumentalist Alison Krauss (the most Grammy-awarded female artist in history!) with her mesmerizing voice. And with the Glaswegian (read: heavy Scottish) accent that she wonderfully masters, Buckley also evokes Tatiana Maslany in “Orphan Black” with her acting. (I watched the film with German subtitles and I’ll admit that, at moments, I was glad to skim them for a brief translation, whether it be to interpret certain especially-accented words or regional slang.)
“Wild Rose” is also graced with an interesting class-conscious onscreen depiction. Especially for an international audience, the film upends onscreen race and class stereotypes while staying true to class portrayals. Rose-Lynn is aided by a wealthy married English woman named Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who is charmed by Rose-Lynn’s talents, passion and the way she captivates Susannah’s kids. Susannah is a black woman with a white husband (who’s revealed to be suspicious and immensely classist), but Susannah is the one who makes the connection with Rose-Lynn. Susannah lives in a mansion and sends her kids to an expensive private school, but unlike her near-pest of a husband, she’s immediately warm and gracious to Rose-Lynn, trusting her (even if she isn’t always truthful) and supporting her in a motherly way (amusingly, while Rose-Lynn’s actual mother is taking care of her grandchildren — Rose-Lynn’s children).
Accents from the British Isles have harsh negative impacts on classism and socioeconomic profiling. Susannah speaks recognizable Received Pronunciation (RP, or Queen’s English) while Rose-Lynn speaks with a Glasgow patter, the latter often aurally associated with the London Cockney accent (though whether they’ve influenced each other is not totally conclusive). RP is often associated with the “elite,” while accents diverging from RP deemed rougher (like Cockney and Glaswegian) are associated with the working class and those of lower socioeconomic statuses. In “Wild Rose,” it’s an interesting but welcome distinction to make, especially hearing the stark difference in their accents paired with the costume design and character mannerisms. Rather than profiling Rose-Lynn as wanting to game her out of her money, Susannah takes her in and uses her privilege to provide Rose-Lynn with opportunities and support.
But if you get anything out of this, it’s that Buckley is one to watch. If want to understand my new obsession with her, just take a look at her live performance of Emmylou Harris’ “Boulder of Birmingham” on The Late Late Show. And if you’re like me and now asking, “Where is Jessie Buckley? I want more Jessie Buckley!”, let me tell you that she will play Queen Victoria in “Dolittle” starring Robert Downey Jr. Singing not guaranteed, but she’s plenty compelling as an actress.
So even if you missed the film, do yourself a favor: go on Spotify (or whatever music platform you prefer) and listen to the “Wild Rose” soundtrack. Even if you despise country music, I guarantee that you’ll be overtaken by Buckley’s powerful voice with a soulful mix of country, rock, folk and Celtic. Personal favorites include “Country Girl,” “Outlaw State Of Mind,” “Peace In This House” and the spine-tingling original finale song “Glasgow (No Place Like Home).”