Rose Plays Julie, 2019.
Directed by Joe Lawlor & Christine Molloy.
Starring Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen, Catherine Walker, Sadie Soverall, Annabell Rickerby, Joanne Crawford and Alan Howley.
An adopted girl seeks out her birth mother, only to be told she has no desire to meet her. With her interest piqued however, she ends up uncovering more about her past – including realities she may never have wished to confront.
Rose Plays Julie is an intimate, eerie drama, following a quiet young woman, Rose (Ann Shelly), and the consequences of her decision to track down her biological parents. As a film relying mainly on interactions between these three characters, it’s quite claustrophobic – but this helps it build its faintly uneasy atmosphere. It’s not just about the emotional fallout of Rose’s quest, but it’s also about her parents’ reaction to her contact and how each character comes to the decisions they do. Unfortunately, this is not always clear.
The strongest choice of Rose Plays Julie is screenwriters Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy’s decision to confront the deep-rooted anxiety of adoptees discovering their origins are negative, and how they might react to that news. Rose is a student vet – cue some quite graphic scenes of animal dismemberment – currently studying a module on euthanasia and ethics, which runs parallel with her fears and obsession over knowing she may never have existed.
Ann Skelly is a bit of an enigma as Rose, whose demeanour is introverted yet direct but gets pushed to the extreme. Is Rose unhinged? Or just deeply affected by her situation? Her vulnerability makes her unpredictable. She clearly has complicated feelings to deal with, but it’s a little frustrating that there’s not much context when it comes to her adopted parents and why she made the decision at this point to find the mother who requested a closed adoption.
Orla Brady is excellent as Rose’s biological mother Ellen, an actress she has been able to watch on screen, and whose story she then parallels with her own cover story when making contact with her father. You feel sympathy for Ellen, whose reactions are understandable in the wake of being blindsided by unexpected contact. Brady’s nuanced performance rings true as she considers her options when it comes to building a relationship with her daughter.
Aidan Gillen really serves his niche as ‘very unpleasant men’ well. Here, Rose’s biological father Peter is a sinister presence from the beginning. Even when being nothing but friendly and helpful, there’s an undertone and emptiness to his gestures; he’s very good at smiling without his eyes. Again, however, there’s a lack of useful context or explanation. Why does he make the decisions he does? What has driven him to this? Although Gillen can make the hair on the back of your neck stand, he wasn’t given much to work with in terms of character development other than ‘antagonist’.
Although Rose Plays Julie provides an interesting premise and an intriguing atmosphere, the unanswered questions and somewhat unclear intention results in unhelpful distance between the story and the audience.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★