I have a soft spot for the small working-class British narrative. Maybe it’s because I can empathise certain aspects to my own life, maybe it’s just nice to see stories that don’t take place in ideal worlds, with idealised characters.
My favourite of this kind of film is Fish Tank, a film I studied during my first year of university; it span a narrative that could have only been told within its own situation. In many ways, Wild Rose reminds me of Fish Tank, with its underdog characters and smaller, focused narrative.
The differences are numerous however, it isn’t all that similar, just barely in style, and the comparison only really makes sense in my head, the settings are similar, but not overwhelmingly, Wild Rose is set in Glasgow, within the incredibly varied world of the Glaswegian working-class, an ever-changing world from what it was, Wild Rose tries to find its spot in and amongst the many foibles of working class life there.
So, with this all set before us, is Wild Rose another great example of a working-class story on the big screen?
Rose-Lyn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) has just finished a 12-month prison sentence, and returns to her life as a young mum, under the watchful eye of her stern mother (Julie Walters). She has aspirations farther afield from Glasgow however, and dreams of becoming a country singer, in Nashville, but as her mother keeps pointing out, life isn’t always ideal.
What I love about this type of film, what I loved about Fish Tank too come to think of it, is the characters. There’s characters you meet in a working-class setting that rarely get seen in mainstream cinema. Ones that if you live in certain areas in certain parts of the world you would instantly recognise, this is what Wild Rose gets so, so right.
Firstly, a character must be portrayed by a skilful actor to bring them to life, and Wild Rose has that. Anchored by an engaging, and at times mesmerising, performance from Jessie Buckley, she brings to life each aspect of her character’s emotions. The outbreaks of frustrations, the giddy highs of ecstasy, and the gut-punch disappointment when it all comes tumbling down.
Rose-Lynn is as human as characters get. She’s flawed, and prone to alienating those closest to her, in particular her kids, in some of the films more effective scenes. There’s even an underlying selfishness to her, which in some cases could make her unliveable, but rather than coming across as selfishness, it instead appears to be dogged determination to follow her calling, and she’s impossible to dislike for that.
Julie Walters is also great as Rose-Lynn’s mother, a woman with a sharp tongue and even sharper opinions, she too brings a spikiness to her character rarely seen in film. There is a loving relationship between the two, but the simmering tension between them often wins out, as she starts to tire of Rose’s wide-eyed fantasies of far-off adventures.
A film that bases itself around such a music-centric story relies on the music in question to deliver, and there is certainly no shortage of country music to go around. I wouldn’t call Wild Rose a musical as such, rather than a film music is involved in, and I know that statement sounds rather redundant, but what I mean is; the central drama is based around the characters and their struggles. The goal of getting to Nashville seems a distant fantasy, only getting further away the more you chase it, for the bulk of the run-time we are wrapped up in the ins-and-outs of Rose’s life, and all of those surrounding her.
The soundtrack is the kind that serves its purpose to the point where it is enjoyable while it’s there, but forgettable once it’s over. There’s no real ear worm along the lines of Shallow from A Star is Born, but it hardly needs to, as I say, it does its job while it’s there, and it’s used very effectively in some moments, which is all that can be asked of a soundtrack.
The direction is also very skilful, the tendency in films such as this is to let the drama unfold in front of the camera as naturally as possible, without pushing boundaries cinematography-wise. While it certainly isn’t groundbreaking in its photography, there are a great deal of very artful shots and framing in this film, one that sticks in my mind is a birds-eye shot of Rose walking away from a party, all alone, separated from the bustling party by a wall, it works effectively as a shot, but also as a visual metaphor, if one was to think about it that deeply.
As far as criticism goes, it does at times feel a touch over-long and self-indulgent, there are certain scenes, and even a character, that could have been cut entirely without affecting the film in any major way. Although it never feels as though it drags, there are things that seem unnecessary upon further evaluation. That being said, the characterisation outside of Rose and her mum does sometimes feel a bit thin on the ground, perhaps a larger family unit might have fleshed out the story, but now I’m just being picky.
Overall, Wild Rose is a great example of British film-making, telling a story with a tone unique to its inner identity, and enhanced by incredibly engaging performances, definitely one to look out for if you get the chance, it might just surprise you.