Sarah Cullen reviews Rose Plays Julie, Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s story of revenge centering on a young woman searching for her biological mother.

“I can’t help thinking that somehow, if you had managed to hold onto me, I’d be living a different life right now,”eponymous protagonist Julie (Ann Skelly) laments to the imagined birth mother she has long wished to reunite with in Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s tense and thought-provoking feature. Rose Plays Julie provides space for a wistful and at times violent imagining of this different life, playing out as a sweeping, at times overwhelming, thriller without losing the trappings of an intimate confessional Irish drama.

As the name suggests, Rose Plays Julie explores the boundaries of selfhood and how changing circumstances can affect perceptions of self. Deciding to gain clarity on her origins, veterinarian student Julie travels to London to discover more about her birth mother, actress Ellen (Orla Brady), and the life she has established after leaving Julie up for adoption as a baby. When Julie learns about the circumstances surrounding her conception she decides to visit an archaeological dig being overseen by her birth father (Aidan Gillen) under the assumed name Rose, while claiming to be looking for archaeology experience for an acting role. Throughout it all, Julie’s actions demonstrate how discovering her lost sense of self is inimitably tied up with digging up both her and her birth parents’ past. 

The score by Stephen McKeon is highly evocative of the recently passed Ennio Morricone’s work, lending the film’s three-way stand-off a sense of foreboding yet elegant inevitableness. It, furthermore, mirrors the windswept wildness of Tom Comerford’s countryside cinematography. Ann Skelly is more than up for the challenge of Rose/Julie, with her deadpan delivery hinting at a deeper sense of rage and despair that erupts only in the film’s most explosive moments. Throughout, Rose Plays Julie navigates successfully between the experiences of both Julie and Ellen, transitioning from Julie’s pathos to an examination of intergenerational trauma as an initially standoffish Ellen reappraises the events that led to her pregnancy. 

Perpetually surprising and revelatory, Rose Plays Julie explores how the history of adoption has affected Ireland: a reality that has revisited many Irish families in the wake of recent Tusla reports. With affecting and moving performances and a captivating script, Molloy and Lawlor’s eerie yet beautiful drama will likely keep you thinking after the credits have rolled. 

Rose Plays Julie screened as part of the Galway Film Fleadh 2020 (7-12 July).


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