The feature film Rose is a giant step forward for the British filmmaker, Kemal Yildirim, whose 2008 short film Rose was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. The short version was a difficult but redemptive tale based on a true story. A promising film, it was well received by several charities and proactive groups. But the latest incarnation of Rose takes the story to a whole new level.
This suspenseful, sophisticated drama stars Helen Clifford as Rose who, to quote from the film, is “a worn out hooker with a habit.” An otherwise girl next door type who also starred in the previous adaptation, Clifford manages to look godawful through most of the footage (with a little help from talented makeup artists). And totally in sync with Rose‘s stepped up production values, her performance is far more powerful and nuanced than it was in 2008.
Rose falls into deep trouble when her callous pimp, Blondie, (Mike Mitchell) gets word that she’s been taking customers on the side—“freelancing.” Blondie is handsome, wears fine suits, and imports sex slaves from southeast Europe.
Mike Mitchell, who appeared in Gladiator and Braveheart, plays this creepy kingpin to a tee. As the resident crime lord and club owner in Hellville (a metaphorical underworld with a bit of a comic strip feel), Blondie is one bad dude. If anyone crosses him, chances are they’ll get a knife at their throat (or worse) within 48 hours. It’s that bad. And Rose is trapped.
Like many of the main characters in other Yildirim films, the traumatized Rose longs for release. And her angelic young daughter, Ellie, (marvelously played by Chelsea Alcock) reminds us that tenderness, beauty and hope are always possible, even amid the worst kinds of tawdriness, violence and neglect. Rose’s love relationship with Tony (Patrick Regis) also calls to mind the importance of caring. One of my favorite scenes is when the troubled Rose, Tony and Ellie are at the beach, and Ellie is entranced by the sight of a well-to-do couple and their contented child.
Tony, himself, is a favored goon and washed up boxer who fights in backrooms for the amusement of Blondie and his jaded inner circle (these scenes reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes). But Tony is an enforcer with a conscience, and doesn’t like what he sees—especially when Blondie decides to teach Rose a hard lesson for moonlighting.
Regis’ compelling performance as the tough but puppy-eyed Tony is another nice surprise in Rose. After seeing how Blondie hurts Rose and, later, getting thrashed in another backroom brawl, Tony’s not going to kiss up to Blondie any longer. And so the film heads into its gripping climax.
No review of Rose would be complete without tipping one’s hat to actors Eileen Daly (Yondra, a retired prostitute), Lucy White (Magdelena, a statuesque heavy) and Rami Hilmi (Baldo, a mindless stooge), along with several relative unknowns who add texture and intrigue to Rose’s life story.
The impressive cast is augmented by Rose‘s innovative cinematography and minimalist soundtrack. Altogether, Yildirim creates the haunting ambiance that audiences have come to expect from his movies. But this one is different. The director’s considerable talents and influences have fused into a laser-sharp focus. And it shows.