I have loved Jessie Buckley since I first saw her as Princess Bolkonskaya in War and Peace,also directed by Tom Harper; and then again in the horror thriller Beastwhere she quite stole the show from Geraldine James.
Here she is Rose-Lynn, jailbird on release and with ambitions of singing country in Nashville, who wears her tattoo ‘three chords and the truth’ proudly on her arm. But it ain’t that simple, with a tag hidden under her white cowgirl boots, and two young children to look after.
Long-suffering mum Marion (Julie Walters) is horrified when Rose-Lynn announces her plan to save up enough money to follow her dream and abandon her children yet again. ‘Maybe twenty years in the bakers is good enough for you but it isn’t good enough for me,’ is Rose’s defiant rebuttal of domesticity and humdrum hand-to-mouth living.
Unable to perform in her old club because of the tag, she finds a job as a cleaner with middle-class mum, Susannah, who seemingly has the perfect life – big house, husband and two clever children in private school. Rose is thrilled when Susannah, who is ill-at-ease with her success, offers to help by putting her in touch with some mates who know Bob Harris at the BBC; but she can’t bring herself to tell the truth about her record and her kids. Sophie Okenedo manages to portray Susannah as sympathetic rather than condescending, determined to help her employee, perhaps to enjoy her success vicariously to compensate for her own sterile lifestyle.
There is an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty throughout the film, which mirrors reality. Rose’s brash veneer of confidence overlays a vulnerability that is only too clear – everything in her life is an accident waiting to happen – whether it’s getting drunk and almost missing her curfew, having her bag snatched, her slot stolen at the Grand Ole Opry, mecca of country in Glasgow. Despite all the good things potentially being put in her path, one can but hold one’s breath.
Jessie Buckley plays Rose-Lynn with great aplomb. If previous films showcased her acting ability, this is super-wow on her singing skills. She belts out the country with a mix of sotto and forte in a way that pulls the old heart strings: a big shout-out to the band, all well-known musicians in their own right. And despite her seeming callousness towards her children at times you know she does really care; it’s just that having two kids before the age of 18 does take its toll on the emotional maturity.
Julie Walters similarly has a soft centre beneath her tough mum act. Somehow you know she wants the best for her daughter but is conflicted as to what that best is: ‘I wanted you to learn responsibility but not to give up hope’ about sums it up. She could so easily have dominated the film, screen presence as she is, but here she is quiet, understated and very real.
The two of them have a great on-screen relationship and can play comedy and pathos with equal measure. There are some great throw away lines. In the scene where Rose is pleading with her lawyer to help her get the tag removed, her reply to the exasperated question ‘well whose fault is it?’ is undeniable from her point-of-view: the judge’s for giving her the sentence.
There is a deeper point to this film too. Set in contemporary Britain, despite the illusion of being a feel-good movie, there are some deeper issues at stake. How do people with no hope try to realise their dreams without money, even if there is talent? Perhaps there are some too-good-to-be true elements to the movie – it is not normal to have a fairy godmother who can magic up Bob Harris (a delightful cameo by the way) but it is certainly one to watch, savour and enjoy. A new star is born.