Wild Rose (UK, 2018)

Walking the line

Films are commercial beasts which are difficult to make profitably and it was hilarious when then PM David Cameron told a meeting of film producers that all they had to do was make films that were popular. The tension between art and commerce, in art generally, has been present at least since the rise of capitalism and film, being a particularly expensive art form, suffers more than most from compromises intended to ensure a return on investment. The fact that compromise is deemed necessary is not meant as a criticism: filmmaking is a job and as such has to pay. Wild Rose received funding from Channel 4 and the BFI, both institutions that have responsibilities for funding culture over commerce, but the producers of WIld Rose still cast names, Sophie Okonedo andJulie Walters, in supporting roles in an attempt to boost box office. It’s not that they, both excellent actors, don’t do the roles well but it’s not exactly supporting Scottish artists – Roy Stafford has useful comments on this in his review. Besides, Okonedo’s role is as a middle class Englishwomen (but she could have been Scottish) so there’s less contention about her casting. Lead, Jessie Buckley, is Irish but there can’t be many actors who sing country so convincingly and she gives a star-making performance, so no quibbles there.

Rose-Lynn (Buckley) is a would-be country singer saddled with two children who have been brought up by her mother (Walters) whilst she was in jail. ‘Saddled’ is the correct term as she resents the wee bairns as much as the electronic tag attached to her leg  that prevents her singing at the Glasgow Opry in the evenings. Working for Okonedo’s Susannah, as a day woman, gives Rose new hope and we’re in the treacherous territory of a middle-class saviour. Thankfully, Nicole Taylor’s script is too savvy for that and it also negotiates the commercial need for a feel-good ending well; after all this is Glasgow and not Hollywood.

There’s a subtlety given to Walters’ role of the long-suffering grandma who berates her daughter for not treating her children correctly but understands the frustrations involved. Rose is not an entirely sympathetic character either, as she regularly forgoes caring for her children for self-centred hedonism. Here the middle-class milieux of Susannah is important as it demonstrates the opportunities not open to working class people. Grandma had wanted to be a pharmacist but had to work from 15-years-old. Too often those in power patronise the working class for not taking opportunities in life apparently not understanding that the opportunities given to middle class children, often in public schools, are not available to everybody. Hence the victim is blamed for their plight.

There are many females in key producing roles in this film though it’s (ably) directed by a man, Tom Harper. A recent report showed how having women directing and/or writing leads to more prominence to female roles (not exactly rocket science that but it’s important to have the statistics). The current BBC series The Trial of Christine Keeler has women in all the main creative roles and it shows on the screen as the white middle class men are presented as the scumbags they were. In episode four, Keeler’s (Sophie Cookson) agent asks if she’s a femme fatale; while the noir character may not have been part of popular discourse in the early ’60s, it’s a knowing moment as Keeler glances at herself in the mirror as she shows incomprehension at the question. Scriptwriter Amanda Coe draws our attention to the trope that women are blamed for the fall of men when it’s always the men’s fault anyway.

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