Rose Plays Julie (4 stars)

Rose Plays Julie

Ann Skelly, Orla Brady and Aidan Gillen make a compelling trio in this impressive drama-cum-thriller

An identity crisis of the most profound variety drives this unflashy but intensely atmospheric Irish drama-cum-thriller, with the threat of death hanging heavy from the outset. It's written and directed by Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, who are probably best known for 2013's Mister John, starring Aidan Gillen, who also appears here.

The film's protagonist is twentysomething veterinary student Rose (an excellent Ann Skelly, who has the look of Jodie Comer about her), a quiet, slightly strange young woman with a faraway look in her eyes, currently learning to put down animals. We watch with trepidation as Rose tracks down her birth mother Ellen (Orla Brady) in London, a successful actress who initially seems mortified by her appearance. Following some disturbing revelations, the film returns to Ireland, where Rose finds her archaeologist birth father Peter (Gillen) and poses as an actress called Julie (the name given to her by Ellen) in order to get close to him.

Crisp and contemplative, Rose Plays Julie features characters consumed by their anguish, by past horror, or existential torment. Gillen brings his usual malevolence but also something more human, while Skelly and Brady deliver totally hypnotising performances – with many dialogue-free moments, the film's success hinges on the pair's ability to compellingly project their characters' thoughts, alongside Rose and Ellen's growing but largely unspoken connection and understanding.

Stephen McKeon's moody orchestral score is often soaringly sinister and incorporates operatic flourishes; with characters unable to show the full force of their feelings, the music fills in these blanks and is fiercely emotional. By contrast to such aural expressiveness, the visual style is unnervingly still and meticulously staged, even a violent scene plays out with eerie precision. Although the ominous signs are very much there from the start, the film moves more overtly into thriller mode as it progresses. Despite its apparent modesty, Rose Plays Julie is an impressively finessed piece of cinema. It's a film to get lost in.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 17 September.

Rose Plays Julie

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • UK, I
  • 1h 40min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy
  • Written by: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy
  • Cast: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen
  • UK release: 17 September 2021

A young woman seeks out her birth mother. When she finds her, she sets off a sequence of events that transform both of their lives.