Country music may have flowered in the U.S., but its roots–including fiddle tunes and ballads from the British Isles, many of them songs about lost loves and premature death–lie on the other side of an ocean. That’s why the premise of the sweet and thorny U.K.-produced comedy-drama Wild Rose is hardly a stretch: Rose-Lynn, played with vigor by Irish actor and singer Jessie Buckley, is a feisty young singer from Glasgow who longs to find fame and fortune in Nashville. She’s sure this dream is within her reach, even though she’s just served a 12-month prison term and has two young children who, it becomes clear, have never exactly been her focus: During her prison stint, she’s left them with her mother, Marion (a salty-stern Julie Walters), the only one truly invested in them. When, upon her release, Rose-Lynn returns to the family dinner table, her daughter Wynonna (Daisy Littlefield), a mite with dark, sad circles under her eyes, stares at her as if she were a ghost, and far less welcome.
Rose-Lynn lands a job working as a cleaning woman for Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), a posh lady who lives in a Glasgow mini-mansion and who seems a little lost within her own comfortable life. Susannah takes an interest in Rose-Lynn and her music, not seeing that Rose-Lynn–charming, in a ballsy way, but also opportunistic–is taking advantage of her.
But Rose-Lynn is neither a wholly selfish character nor a selfless one, and her rough contours give Wild Rose–directed by Tom Harper and written by Nicole Taylor–its bite. Rose-Lynn does the wrong thing, over and over again: In one of the most wrenching sequences, she wastes time down at the pub while her kids wait dejectedly for the pizza she’s promised them. Her route to redemption is crooked and laden with weeds; this isn’t the simple rags-to-riches parable you might be expecting. But when Rose-Lynn opens her mouth to sing–her speaking voice has a Glaswegian burr, but her singing voice is all Tennessee–you’re wheedled into forgetting her flaws and sins and wanting only the best for her and her kids. The sound that pours out of her, in songs of yearning and regret, of wanting to be bad and trying to be good, is a reminder that country music belongs to everyone. No matter where it was born, it’s at home wherever it goes.
This appears in the July 01, 2019 issue of TIME.
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