Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) is leading an inauthentic life. In her mind, she is the Queen of Memphis, a country singer born in Scotland but destined for the U.S. And though Rose-Lynn has been singing in the Grand Ole Opry since she was 14 — a Western-themed bar in Glasgow, not the iconic Nashville theater — reality is not something she is ready to promote: two kids before she was 18, a disapproving and concerned mother (Julie Waters) and a rap sheet that’ll either keep her tethered to the underclass or fuel the music that’ll break it.
Rose-Lynn is hoping for the latter, and she’ll make it happen by hook or by crook. She’s even prepped herself by tattooing her forearm with the mantra: Three chords and the truth.
Like most of us, Rose-Lynn is stuck in the middle. And Wild Rose, a musical drama from writer Nicole Taylor and director Tom Harper, is about deciding which way to go. Rose-Lynn has the voice, there’s no doubt about it, and she’s lived the life to inform it. When she meets with prominent BBC presenter Bob Harris, he tells her exactly what she wants to hear: “All that matters is that you’ve got a voice and you’ve got something to say.”
Well, almost. The voice is important, and so is the intent behind it, but they are far from everything. The music may be eternal. So, too, are the scars.
That may sound cliché, but Wild Rose is far from it. Thanks, primarily, to Buckley’s performance as both a singer and as an actor in command of small moments. Whether she is attempting to diffuse her mother’s laser glare, or trying to stifle a burp after drinking her Coca-Cola too fast, Buckley gives Rose-Lynn a lived-in complexity: You know her almost immediately, and yet you still want to learn more. To see whether she will pull this dream off or fall back on selfish habits.
Luckily for Rose-Lynn, there are those along the way who extend a helping hand: Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), a wealthy woman who hires Rose-Lynn as a cleaning lady and does just about everything she can to help her musical career. The only problem is Susannah doesn’t know Rose-Lynn — she’s been taken in by the passion, the demeanor and the narrative Rose-Lynn’s created. That’s the danger of storytelling; it’s too easy to shave off the grittier bits that make going from A to B a lot less admirable.
Thankfully, Wild Rose doesn’t sidestep those moments the way Rose-Lynn does. That said, Wild Rose is still a heartwarming tale that ends with a climactic performance of “Glasgow (There’s No Place By Home)” penned by American actress and singer Mary Steenburgen. It’s the kind of song you’d turn up and sing-along with if it came on the radio. It’s a solid hit, one that rings true no matter many times you hear it.