Starring Jessie Buckley. Rated PG
“What happens to a dream deferred?” Langston Hughes famously asked. “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
No chance of shrinkage for Rose, a preternaturally talented country singer marooned in Glasgow poverty, nor for Jessie Buckley, who portrays her in a career-making turn of the juiciest kind.
The Irish-born upstart made strong impressions in two Russian-based tales, as an irradiated fireman’s bold wife in Chernobyl and as timid Marya Bolkonskaya in the recent BBC take on War & Peace.
She came in second on one of those telly talent shows, and has since been championed on the London musical stage by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Here sporting a sturdy Glaswegian burr, she dominates the proceedings as 23-year-old Rose-Lynn Harlan, who dreams of hightailing it to Nashville and the big time, but is tied down by two young children and a tendency to make bad choices.
The worst of these got her 18 months in the slammer for (gulp) smuggling heroin.
The kids have been with her long-suffering mom (Julie Walters, terrific, as always), who wants Rose to get her act together. Of course, that ankle bracelet does get in the way of gigs.
Rose eventually gets hired as a cleaning woman for transplanted Londoner Susannah, played by Sophie Okonedo, a Brit-TV veteran who snagged a Tony for her stage turn in A Raisin in the Sun (the play that popularized Hughes’s line).
Posh Susannah pulls some magical strings to get her new “day woman” noticed by a top DJ at BBC radio. And our girl almost muffs that too.
Anyway, what exactly is her dream? Apart from tattooing “Three chords and the truth” on Rose’s arm, Nicole Taylor’s scattershot script doesn’t explain where this love of country music came from, or how she learned such perfectly polished phrasing of sophisticated, obscure originals.
In fact, her singing style is exactly the same at the end, so there’s no real arc for her character or her art—just a series of plot contrivances intended to keep those fantasies at bay just a little bit longer.
Susannah has two children roughly the same age as Rose’s, but few parallels are drawn between them, nor is there any stab at reconciling that serious drug conviction with the upbeat person we spend all this time with.
Director Tom Harper’s solution to such messy contradictions is to let his actors do the heavy lifting. The story isn’t especially believable, but if they buy it, that’s really all that matters.
Wild Rose may be a kind of cut-rate Star Is Born, but in Jessie Buckley, it does birth a genuine star.