“Three chords and the truth.” It’s the tattoo that adorns spitfire Rose-Lynn Harlan’s (Jessie Buckley) forearm. And it’s the reason the Scottish lass proclaims she loves good-old American country music.
But although she walks the walk, talks the talk and belts the tunes with an astonishing sense of soul and clarity, it’s the truth part that trips her up. Her journey to discover that is the tale of “Wild Rose,” a Scottish love letter to American country music, written by Nicole Taylor and directed by Tom Harper.
Buckley commands the screen as the unfiltered Rose-Lynn, the tornado at the center of the story, a wild woman with fire in her veins and a love of music that seems to burst out of her. She’s barely contained, and she embodies the outlaw spirit of country, quite literally. As we meet her, she’s being released from jail, strapping on an ankle monitor underneath her signature white cowboy boots.
“Johnny Cash was a convicted felon,” she declares proudly, before throwing down with a rival singer at an old haunt. Despite all the limitations on her life, Rose-Lynn is one of the most free-spirited creatures to ever be put on film.
It’s a tailor-made role for the electrifying Buckley, who communicates pure primal instinct with a startling immediacy. As Rose-Lynn, she communicates every emotion physically, on her face, in her body and her voice. When she’s backed into a corner, she runs, her white boots pumping the pavement at a full sprint.
While Buckley has stunned in complex dramatic roles in the film “Beast” and the HBO series “Chernobyl,” the role of Rose-Lynn shows off both her acting talent and her spectacular pipes. She was discovered at 18 on the BBC reality show “I’d Do Anything,” vying for a role in the West End revival of the musical “Oliver!”
“Wild Rose” is filled with Buckley’s incredible vocal performances: tearing up the stage with the house band at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry, belting classic country standards while vacuuming at her job cleaning the home of an upper-class family, plaintively crooning a Wynonna Judd tune into a camera at the behest of her boss, the warm and supportive Susannah (Sophie Okonedo).
In Susannah, Rose-Lynn finds a champion of her energy and talent, a staunch supporter of her dream to move to Nashville to pursue country stardom. This is a stark contrast to her own mother, Marion (Julie Walters), who is frustrated with her impulsive daughter. She wants Rose-Lynn to step up and properly care for her two children, Lyle (Adam Mitchell) and Wynonna (Daisy Littlefield), to be someone that they, and she, can count on. But all Rose-Lynn ever wanted is what Marion has withheld: permission to dream big, wild and free.
“Wild Rose” is about the hard, brutal work of dreaming big, and the consequences of that. Rose-Lynn has no trouble embracing herself as a fierce individual with her own unique style, but she struggles with integrating her whole self, her whole life into her story. It’s not until she can embrace the truth that she can truly embody country music. Like the tattoo says, it’s just three chords and the truth. And in “Wild Rose,” what stunningly beautiful, heart-swelling music that is.
Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief drug material.