Rose-Lynn is an aspiring Country singer (never say Country and Western) in her early 20s. She’s been performing at the Grand Ole Opry since she was 14. This would be the Grand Ole Opry in Glasgow, mind, not the slightly better known one in Nashville. She’s not been singing there for a while thanks to a 12 month jail sentence for throwing heroin into a prison. Look, she didn’t know it was heroin – she was off her face at the time.
The people running the club aren’t too keen to have an ex-crim back, even when she reminds them of Johnny Cash’s outlaw credentials. Besides which, her ankle tag means that she can’t play any gigs that go on past 7pm.
Enter Susannah, a yuppie black woman who gives Rose-Lynn a job cleaning her mansion. The relationship between Susannah and Rose-Lynn embodies one of the film’s key themes, which is that of class. It is not that the rich are all bastards – some of them are but Susannah seems to be a perfectly nice woman. But They and Their progeny have privileges and opportunities that are never available to Uz.
So, while We may send countless letters to the BBC asking for an audience, all we get for our troubles is a BBC pen. Meanwhile, all They have to do is send a mail to a friend of a friend in middle management, and voila, a meeting with “Whispering” Bob Harris has been arranged.
They have a sense of self-belief that We are not allowed. Rose-Lynn knows that she is good, and is prepared to fight, but when she is told that she should write her own songs, she asks “but what would someone like me write about?” The tattoo on her arm reads “Three chords and the truth”, but she doesn’t believe that people like Uz are allowed to write that truth, nor that Our truths are worth recording.
Susannah would like to call Rose-Lynn a friend, but their relationship is systematically unequal. Their employee-employer relationship means that Rose-Lynn can’t even admit to Susannah that she has children, let along talk about the prison sentence. Ultimately, Rose-Lynn is not Susannah’s friend, she is her servant.
Alongside the discussion of class, the film looks into family relations, particularly through Rose-Lynn’s relationship with her mother Marion, and with her two kids. Marion is loving but stern, and feels that Rose-Lynn’s obsession with getting a singing career in Nashville means that she is neglecting her kids in the here and now.
Marion has a point. Rose-Lynn’s son continually screams that he wants to go back to live with his granny, and her daughter barely talks to her. Rose-Lynn’s inability to cope with motherhood means that she tries to wish it away, and continually breaks promises made to the kids. And yet, she can’t conceive of a life working 20 years at the baker’s like her mother, and her desire to get away is as much for the kids as herself.
It is to the film’s eternal credit that it neither sinks into utter despair nor delivers an unbelievable and sentimental Happy End, as is normal for This Sort of Film. It portrays systemic inequalities – Nashville is just as much an unfeeling Corporate town as anywhere else – but also shows the resilience of those trying to change their world, though not in conditions of their own choosing.
So it does not dismiss aspiration or expect us to accept our lot, but nor does it make the usual Hollywood presumption that on an uneven playing field, all you need is ambition to defeat the odds. Rose-Lynn is both talented and ambitious, but keeps being beaten back by the realities of life in the poor end of Glasgow.
Finally, a shout out for the great actors. The film depends on Jessie Buckley not just having the acting ability to play Rose-Lynn, but also being able to sing like someone who you genuinely feel could make it. She passes this test with flying colours. And Julie Walters – finally the age of characters like Mrs Overall – puts in a nuanced performance of a mother torn between intervening in her daughter’s life and letting her learn from her own mistakes.
The character of Rose-Lynn is unlike many that we experience in modern film – she is deeply flawed, neglectful and dishonest. And yet, while we may share the exasperation of her maltreated kids, there is no chance that we feel anything but support for her.
Wild Rose seems to be on limited release in Berlin, and is already on its second week, so do try and catch it soon, before the cinema programmes become clogged up with Christmassy films and interstellar car chases.